Administrator’s Report – October 8, 2010
A Job Well Done
As the County Commission adopted the final budget for Fiscal Year 2011 at the end of September, it was in stark contrast to the situation playing out in some neighboring communities and in governments throughout Florida and even the nation. You can read more details about the final budget in the Office of Management and Budget section below, but I want to focus for a moment on the budget process itself.
It is often easy for the public or media to criticize government and complain about sub-standard performance or poor decisions. But, when the occasion arises to compliment a job well done, it does not always happen. So I want to deliberately and publicly thank the Board of County Commissioners, our County staff, and the public for an outstanding budget process. It began nearly a year ago when staff began making cuts – for the fourth year in a row – and identifying creative ways to do more with less in anticipation of another budget reduction. These tough decisions included delaying parks and road projects, reducing operating expenses, and asking employees to again accept no pay increases for the second year in a row (including no bonuses for general County employees), among other things. The budget process continued over the summer as the public participated in numerous Town Hall meetings and provided meaningful feedback on the budget and the type of community you want to have, and staff continued to refine the budget.
Finally, the budget process culminated with two required budget public hearings in September, which lasted a total of 72 minutes and included comments by eight public speakers, and those overwhelmingly positive. One might wonder if this indicates our residents are apathetic about the budget, but I strongly believe otherwise. While some governments endured public hearings that lasted hours and debated components of their budgets at the last minute, St. Johns County had diligently prepared the way for a smooth finale. By communicating with the public, exchanging information honestly, listening to our residents, and adjusting the budget accordingly, St. Johns County got it right, and I believe all involved should be commended.
Does this mean I expect each of our more than 180,000 residents to be pleased with our budget? No, I understand we are unable to satisfy everyone. But I do believe all residents had ample opportunity to be involved, and at the end of the day the community in general has confidence that the County Commission is managing our budget well and is making decisions in the best long-term interest of St. Johns County. Congratulations to the County Commission, each County employee, and our residents for a job well done!
- Corn Maze – The Extension Office staff continue to promote agri-tourism, including the Sorghum Maze at Sykes Cooper Farm. More than 800 people attended on opening weekend, a successful effort to reach youth and adults with agriculture education.
- Home & Garden Show – The 2010 Home & Garden Show held at the Agricultural Center was well attended on October 2nd, in spite of the rain. Sunday’s weather drew an even larger crowd who participated in workshops in a wide range of subjects and enjoyed a tour of the grounds, plant sales, home and garden product vendors, and a petting zoo and train ride.
- Burned House in Hastings – This week the Code Enforcement Division worked with a contractor to demolish a burned structure on Main Street in Hastings. The burned house was brought to the attention of County officials in May, but no owner could be located to demolish the unsecured structure. While completing the legally-prescribed process of public notification, the County put a barrier around the property and condemned the building as unsafe. Recently the Board of Adjustment and Appeals determined a safety emergency existed and issued an order allowing the County to remove the remaining structure. A lien will be placed on the property for repayment of the demolition expense, approximately $3,600.
- St. Johns County Transit Center – The County joined the Council on Aging on October 3rd to celebrate the grand opening of the new St. Johns County Transit Center on Old Moultrie Road. The new facility, funded through federal grants, will provide much-needed headquarters for the COA Transportation Department and Sunshine Bus Company, the official public transportation provider for the County. A brief ceremony included comments by United States Congressman John Mica, Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Stephanie Kopelousos, COA Executive Director Cathy Brown, and County Commission Chair Ron Sanchez. The transit center belongs to and was built by St. Johns County, but will be used by the Council on Aging/Sunshine Bus Company.
- Courthouse Renovations – Phase II renovations of the Courthouse are nearing completion. The new south entrance is now open, and the two remaining courtrooms and judges offices are in the final phase. Completion of these two portions along with the security system will complete the entire renovation by December. The project remains within budget. Completion of this project will bring to a close the 36-month renovation of the old administration building and the courthouse, and it turns the entire complex into a judicial center housing courtrooms, the Clerk of the Court functions, Guardian Ad Litem, the Public Defender, and the State’s Attorney.
- New Art Show in Administration Building – Morning Brew, a mixed media show by Flagler College alumni, will be on view in the Gallery at the St. Johns County Administration Building from October 19 through January 19, 2011. An opening reception will be held on Tuesday, October 19 at 8:30 am with music provided by another Flagler College graduate, Jim Johnston. All artists who have contributed work to the show are Flagler College graduates who have chosen to remain in the St. Augustine area. Special thanks to the St. Johns Cultural Council for arranging this Art in Public Places display.
- Upcoming Events – October and November will continue with many concerts, festivals, and Night Owl Cinema events from the Cultural Events Division. WideSpread Panic started off the month of October at the St. Augustine Amphitheatre, and coming up is Vampire Weekend, Flaming Lips, and Darius Rucker. Also, the 2nd annual Oktoberfest will take place on October 23rd at the St. Augustine Beach Pier with Oompah music, delicious food and beverages, and more. On October 30th the Night Owl Cinema Halloween Double Feature will show Addams Family and Carrie. Participate in the costume contest for a chance to win a prize. Enjoy this free night for the whole family. Visit the St. Augustine Amphitheatre website for full information.
- SCORE Business Planning Assistance – SCORE, Counselors to America’s Small Business, offers free counseling services to foster the development and growth of small businesses. Representatives from the North Florida Chapter gave an informational presentation at the County Commission meeting on September 21st. SCORE has 24 counselors in St. Johns County ready to assist new and existing businesses. Additionally, SCORE is partnering with Flagler College and the Chamber of Commerce to offer a workshop series for small businesses in October and November. For more information, visit www.scorejax.org or call 443-1900.
- Emergency Contact Information – October 3-9 was “Register Your Emergency Contact Information” Week in Florida, as proclaimed by Governor Charlie Crist. This is a reminder to all Florida residents to ensure law enforcement officers know how to quickly contact your loved ones, should they need to do so. The Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles’ Emergency Contact Information program is a tool that allows licensed drivers and identification card holders to submit two contacts to notify in the event of an emergency, such as a vehicle crash. The information can then be accessed only by law enforcement officers. More than 3.7 million Floridians have already registered their contacts. Registration is quick, convenient, and free. You may register in a St. Johns County Tax Collector’s Office or online at www.flhsmv.gov/eci.
- Bald Eagle Nests – Consistent with federal and state law, the status of approximately 30 known bald eagle nests in St. Johns County is evaluated during the nesting season, which runs from October 1st through May 15th each year. The County also has rules that guide development activities within specified zones around nests to protect both the adult and hatchling eagle. Most of the bald eagle nests in the County are found along the St. Johns River or the Intracoastal Waterway. A map of known Bald Eagle Nests in St. Johns County can be found here on the County website. Additional information on Bald Eagles may be found on the websites of the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
- Washback Sea Turtles – The Habitat Conservation Section worked closely with over 250 volunteers the past several weeks to survey the beaches of St. Johns County for post-sea turtle hatchling washbacks. Washback sea turtles have traveled from the nest to the ocean and found refuge in the Sargasso sea, a large layer of seaweed that travels with the currents. During large storm events, direct on shore winds, and extreme high tides the washbacks can be pushed back on to shore. They do not have the ability to swim back out to sea as they are exhausted and in need of medical attention. Over the course of the last two weeks, direct onshore winds pushed several post-sea turtle hatchling washbacks on to our beaches resulting in over 250 volunteers being called into action to survey the beaches. The washbacks are collected and safely transported to Volusia Marine Science Center, where they receive professional care and are closely monitored. When they show signs of improvement, the turtles are transported off shore and deposited back into the Sargasso sea where they will grow and spend time foraging until they reach an age where they will enter their migratory destiny.
- Archeological Survey of Spengler Island – Volunteers and Environmental Division staff recently completed an archaeological survey of the County-owned Spengler Island, located in the San Sebastian River. Archaeologists identified the remains of a Victorian-period mansion built by John F. Whitney, a northern newspaper man and entrepreneur who arrived in St. Augustine in 1870 prior to Henry Flagler. Whitney created the Ravenswood development, one of our community’s oldest neighborhoods. He and his wife also built their extraordinary house on the island hosting many visitors including Mary Todd Lincoln. The survey project is part of a larger effort to develop a proper management plan for the exceptional natural and cultural resources on the island. Work has included marsh restoration, invasive plant removal, and archeological sites identification. In 2004, the county purchased the property to use as mitigation land for County road projects.
- National Public Lands Day – As part of National Public Lands Day on September 25th, Environmental Division staff and volunteers removed the invasive species air potato and Chinese tallow from Fort Mose Historical State Park. To keep them from sprouting back, about 300 native plants, purchased through grant funding, were planted in the area. Last year, an estimated 50,000 volunteers participated nationwide to remove 900,000 pounds of trash, plant 100,000 trees and shrubs, and maintain 1,320 miles of trails. Learn more at www.publiclandsday.org.
- Candidate Forums and Constitutional Amendment Coverage on GTV – GTV recently broadcasted two forums hosted by the St. Johns County League of Women Voters. The first forum on October 4th featured a debate by candidates for the Florida Senate District 8 and the House District 20 races. On October 6th, a second forum was held for the state of Florida Constitutional Amendments that will appear on the November ballot. For this debate, designated representatives argued for and against the upcoming constitutional amendments. Each forum will be rebroadcast three times a week up until the election on November 2nd. The complete schedule is listed on the GTV Calendar on the county website.
Health and Human Services
- Adoption Day – In conjunction with November being National Adoption Month, the St. Johns County Family Integrity Program invites the community to the 3rd annual Adoption Day Celebration on Friday, November 5th, 5:30 – 7:30 pm at the Solomon Calhoun Community Center in West Augustine. Activities will include free food, fun, and games for all ages. The celebration is in honor of Adoptive parents and families, and information will be provided for anyone interested in becoming a Foster or Adoptive parent. An ongoing need exists in St. Johns County, and throughout Florida, for Foster and Adoptive homes to care for teenagers and older sibling groups currently in the State’s custody. For more information, visit www.adoptflorida.org or contact Richard Zicht with the St. Johns County Family Integrity Program at (904) 209-6127.
- Picturing Hastings – The Hastings Drop-In Center, a socialization center for those with a mental health diagnosis, proudly presents “Picturing Hastings”, an exhibition of photographs taken by its members. The project, funded by the St. Johns County Cultural Council and the State of the Arts License Plate Program, is the culmination of a photography class; disposable cameras were distributed to the students, who were given instruction in technique and composition with an emphasis on photography as an art form. The show has samples of each student’s work and provides glimpses of life in southwest St. Johns County. The public is invited to attend the event at the Hastings Library on Thursday, October 14th from 6:00 to 8:00 pm.
- What’s Growing in St. Augustine – Through a partnership of the County Health and Human Services Department and the St. Augustine Boys and Girls Club, ten children will get a hands-on lesson in both horticulture and community service. The students have prepared windowsill gardens, and this week each student will hand deliver his or her garden to a resident at Emeritus of St. Augustine Assisted Living Facility. The program was initiated by County Prevention Support Specialist Laura Folk, who recently completed her master’s thesis on horticultural therapy. Her research on resiliency showed that community involvement significantly decreases the risk for drug and alcohol abuse in youth.
Housing and Community Services
- Affordable Housing – Completions and closings took place on 3 new homes using the Florida Housing Finance Corporation’s CWHIP program, which will eventually build 111 new homes between the Housing Finance Authority and Habitat for Humanity. With down-payment assistance, these homes are a great opportunity for homebuyers to take advantage of low interest rates. Interested buyers should contact Project Coordinator Julie Voorhees at 827-6896. Additionally, the Housing Finance Authority is completing the initial rehabilitation of homes under the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. Eight of the homes will be sold to qualified low and moderate-income homebuyers, and nine homes will be utilized for affordable rental housing. Interested buyers should contact Project Coordinator Julie Voorhees at 827-6896. Low and moderate-income applicants for the rental units should contact the St. Johns Housing Partnership 824-0902.
- Grant for Housing Rehabilitation – St. Johns County has executed a contract with the Department of Community Affairs for $750,000 in Community Development Block Grant funding for housing rehabilitation. An additional $65,000 is also being provided through the St. Johns Housing Partnership’s Weatherization Program. These funds will be used countywide for renovations to low-income homeowners, and the application process will open later this calendar year.
- IDA Bonds for Publix in Vilano Town Center – The Industrial Development Authority, working with the County, will be issuing $5.5 million in federal Recovery Zone Facility Bonds to assist in the financing of the new Publix grocery store in the Vilano Town Center. These bonds are private activity bonds and are not an obligation of the County. It is a unique opportunity to provide tax-exempt financing for a commercial project that will create approximately 80 new jobs, as well as stimulate the local construction-related employment and suppliers. Construction is expected to commence early next year.
- National Friends of the Library Week – The Library System would like to observe Thanksgiving a month early by celebrating National Friends of the Library Week October 18-24. The Board of County Commissioners also will be recognizing the valuable contributions of the Friends groups with a proclamation at their October 19th meeting. Friends of the Library are non-profit volunteer groups that support the library with financial and other support. For instance, the next time you enjoy refreshments at a library program, or enjoy some truly special enhancement, it is likely that was provided by the Friends of the Library. Each library location and the Bookmobile have their own FOL group. For more information or to join a FOL group, visit the Library’s website.
- Halloweek – The Library will offer special Halloween programming at each location. The Main Library – instead of one big Halloween carnival on one night – is offering “Halloweek”, a week’s worth of movies, pumpkin carving, and costume parades (special events like this are one more way the Friends of the Library contribute to the library). For more event information, visit to www.sjcpls.org and click on the Main Library Calendar. Or check out more free programs offered at your library branch.
Office of Management & Budget
- 2011 Budget – On September 29th the Board of County Commissioners adopted the final fiscal year 2011 budget of $582 million, a $29 million decrease from 2010 and a $151 million decrease since 2007. Adoption of the final budget was the culmination of a lengthy process, which included public feedback received at the Town Hall meetings and throughout the year. Final millage rates showed no increase from the prior year despite just over a 10 percent decline in total County taxable property values, which results in $14 million in decreased property taxes overall for County taxpayers. Total County taxable property values have now declined for three consecutive years for a cumulative decrease of over 25 percent.
Despite County revenue declines, total County reserves were able to be increased slightly from the prior year as the County continues to position itself to bridge to better economic times. However, County reserves are anticipated to be significantly reduced during fiscal year 2011 with the lingering economic slowdown and potential further devaluation in the housing market. The 2011 budget went into effect October 1, 2010, marking the beginning of the 2011 County fiscal year.
County employees are to be congratulated for further sacrifices and efficiencies in continuing to do more with less in difficult economic times for everybody. Our staff has continued to serve the public with dedication and commitment, despite no pay increases for two years and taking unpaid furlough days last year. Most importantly, the County has once again been able to maintain its service level to the community through the concerted efforts of the County Commission, County Administration, and all the County staff.
- Other OMB Activities – With the final fiscal year 2011 County budget adopted, the Office of Management and Budget moves on in working towards completing the “2010 Fourth Quarter Performance Measures Report” and the “FY 2011 Financial Plan” for submission for the GFOA “Distinguished Budget Presentation Award”. The Performance Measures Report contains County department measures that indicate how effectively or efficiently County services are being provided in an increasingly tougher environment. The 2011 Financial Plan reflects the County’s 2011 budget and should conform to GFOA’s standards as a policy document, financial plan, operations guide, and a communications device. The County has been awarded the GFOA Budget Award for 18 consecutive years. Both documents are considered a best management practice and, once completed, will be placed on the County website for public access.
- Community Collection Day – St. Johns County Solid Waste Management will host a Community Collection Day on Saturday, October 16th, from 8:00 am until noon at Bartram Trail High School, located at 7399 Longleaf Pine Parkway in St. Johns. The event is limited to St. Johns County residents only. A Community Collection Day provides residents an opportunity to safely dispose of household hazardous waste, obsolete electronics including old computer equipment, and tires. Some examples of household hazardous waste items include paint, oil, cleaners, pesticides, batteries, and pool chemicals. To allow the best service to residents, a few restrictions apply. For instance, no microwave ovens or large appliances are accepted. Also, each household is limited to disposing no more than ten tires. The Community Collection Day is limited to residential materials; no commercial items, construction materials, garbage, or yard trash will be accepted. For more information or bad weather updates, contact Chris Benjamin at (904) 669-4327.
- County Energy Program Recognized by U.S. Department of Energy – St. Johns County is currently featured on www.EnergyEmpowers.gov, a website from the United States Department of Energy that shares success stories from local governments. St. Johns County is featured for the traffic signal resynchronization project we are conducting as part of an Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant. This grant is a great example of interdepartmental cooperation within our County staff. Jay Kamys of the Environmental Section identified the grant opportunity. Then the Engineering Division staff, led by Assistant County Engineer Andy Ames and Traffic Manager Greg Kennedy, performed extensive research for the grant and prepared the application. Jay Kamys submitted the grant on behalf of the County and serves as the County’s point of contact. Traffic Signal Technicians Hank Mein, Jerry Andrews, and Jay Jarrard will perform the field work that implements the improved signal timings. Click here to view the web article.
- Solid Waste Transfer Stations Hours of Operation Change – The hours of operation at the St. Johns County Tillman Ridge and Stratton Road transfer have been reduced on Saturdays only. The new Saturday hours will be from 7 am to 1 pm, a three-hour reduction of the previous 7 am to 4 pm schedule. The Monday-Friday hours of operation will remain 7 am to 6 pm. This reduction will contribute to operational efficiencies with minimal disruption in service. Trends show very little use by residents in the afternoons at either transfer station. The transfer stations continue to offer many great services, and St. Johns County residents may bring all household garbage, hazardous waste, and white goods to either location for disposal during operating hours. For more information, call Solid Waste at (904) 827-6980.
Recreation and Parks
- Bird Island Park – After more than eight years of planning and nearly two years of construction, we are pleased to announce a ribbon cutting ceremony for Bird Island Park. The public is invited to join County officials, volunteers, donors, and the Board of Directors for a Ribbon Cutting this Friday, October 15th at 10:00 am. Bird Island Park is an innovative, passive park to be enjoyed by all generations. Designed by Bobby Weed, the park illustrates the ecosystems of northeast Florida and highlights native flora and fauna. Bird Island Park began several years ago when a handful of Ponte Vedra residents sought to have a local park built in the community. The residents worked with the County to identify the vacant piece of land between the Ponte Vedra Beach Branch Library and Fire Station 10. The County set aside some money for the park, but the community was asked to raise the majority of the necessary funds. A non-profit 501c3 organization was formed, and the volunteer Board of Directors raised more than $400,000 during the past seven years, with the assistance and support of numerous businesses and individuals. Learn more about the park at www.BirdIslandPark.com.
- Old Settlers Reunion at Alpine Groves Park – The Recreation and Parks Department, along with the William Bartram Scenic and Historic Highway Management Council, will play host to the Old Settlers Reunion on Saturday, November 6th. The free cultural event will be held at Alpine Groves Park located at 2060 State Road 13 N. in Switzerland. The festivities start at 11:00 am and end at 4:00 pm. Come enjoy many attractions, along with folk and country music. Attendees are encouraged to wear period dress, and men will share results of a whisker growing contest. For more information, please contact Beverly Fleming at (904) 522-1573.
- Youth Basketball League – Children ages of 7-14 can join the Recreation and Parks Department Youth Basketball League for $25 per child for the whole season. Registration is now open, and a copy of the child’s birth certificate must accompany the registration form. Please contact Jamie Baccari, Youth Program Coordinator, for more information at (904) 209-0377.
- Youth Baseball Fall National Tournaments – St. Johns County and Triple Crown Sports of Fort Collins, Colorado, are hosting the Fall National Youth Baseball Tournaments October 8-10, 15-17 and 22-25 with different age groups playing at different fields throughout the County. For further information, please call Betsy Clarkson at (904) 209-0335.
- Ancient City Kids Day – The 15th annual Ancient City Kids Day at Francis Field will be Saturday, October 23rd, 11:00am to 3:00pm. Ancient City Kids Day includes fun-filled activities for children and families with over 40 youth services agencies offering carnival style games, activities, contests, and free entertainment along with information about community resources. Best of all, it is free for the whole family with charges only for food and drinks. For information, please call EPIC Community Services at (904) 829-2273.
- Hastings Haunted House & Food Drive – Come to the Hastings Haunted House and Food Drive Saturday, October 30th, 7:00–9:30 pm at the Equestrian Center, 8200 Smith Road, Hastings. To enter the haunted house, you will need to bring at least one canned food item that will be donated to the OUR Center. For more information, call Toni Morrison (904) 347-3744 or Tanya Jackson (904) 692-3655.
- Clyde E. Lassen State Veterans’ Nursing Home – St. Johns County officials joined the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs on Saturday, September 25th to celebrate the grand opening of the new Clyde E. Lassen State Veterans’ Nursing Home in St. Johns County on State Road 16. The nursing home is the first for veterans in northeast Florida and will provide skilled-nursing care for up to 120 veterans. St. Johns County donated the land for the facility, and County officials, staff, and local veterans worked very hard to secure St. Johns County as the site selected by the State. The economic impact of the nursing home will be substantial for St. Johns County, particularly the more than 180 jobs the nursing home provides. Click here to learn more.
- Vietnam Documentary – The public is invited to a “Welcome Home” event for Vietnam veterans on Sunday, November 7th in the Flagler College Auditorium, with sponsors including the St. Johns County Veterans Council among others. The doors open at 2:00 pm and the public enjoy many special exhibits including the “Travelling Vietnam Wall”, a special tribute to POW/MIA’s, and a travelling wall with the names of Florida residents who paid the ultimate price in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The premier documentary “Vietnam: Service, Sacrifice & Courage” then runs from 3:00-5:30 pm. A free shuttle to/from parking garage will be provided by Old Town Trolley Tours. For more information, contact Michael Rothfeld, 904-829-0381.
Thank you for reading this information and being involved in our community. I appreciate your continued support.