Administrator’s Report – February 8, 2011
2010 – Looking Back
It seems like just a few months ago we were beginning 2010, and now it is already the second month of 2011. Another year is another chance to thank the community for your continued support during these difficult times. We have again weathered the challenge of balancing community expectations with declining financial resources. And even during the storm, we accomplished a great deal in the past year through open and honest communication and some very difficult decision making.
Here is a sampling of some accomplishments in 2010:
- Sound Financial Management – Kept millage rates flat for 2011, resulting in over a 10 percent average decrease in County property taxes; furloughed most County staff for five days saving approximately $1 million; increased the local option tourist development tax to 4 percent to fund and expand tourist development efforts; held utility rates steady for 2011 for the 3rd consecutive year; all while the County Finance department and Office of Management & Budget both continued to receive the highest awards from the Government Finance Officers Association.
- Economic Development – Adopted the 2025 Comprehensive Plan and updates to the Land Development Code; updated the Concurrency Management System; continued partnership with Small Business Development Center; completed of multiple studies on economic development, including two on agriculture from the University of Florida and one on economic development strategy from the University of North Florida; worked with the Industrial Development Authority (IDA) to establish a CRA Economic Recovery Zone to obtain $5.5 million in federal bonds to help finance the construction of a Publix Grocery Store in the Vilano Town Center.
- Quality of Life – Completed the State Veterans’ Nursing Home, on which the County partnered with the state, with more than 180 new jobs anticipated; led 2010 Census efforts with a Complete Count Committee and achieved a 79 percent final mail back rate, well above the national and state average; St. Johns County was ranked as one of the top two healthiest counties in Florida; County Veteran Services received the VFW Florida Service Office of the Year Award; Code Enforcement removed 64 nuisance structures throughout the County.
- Stimulus and Grant Funding – Through Housing & Community Services Division, used $2.6 million of stimulus grant funding to acquire foreclosed properties for rehabilitation; partnered on a $5 million CWHIP grant towards the construction of 111 affordable new homes and continued the award-winning Foreclosure Intervention Program; Utility Services was awarded almost $10 million of stimulus funding through a partnership with the City of St. Augustine Beach for the installation of central sewer and elimination of deteriorating septic tanks in seven beach neighborhoods; Environmental Services secured over $400,000 in energy conservation grants for the County.
- Completed Park Projects – Artificial (low-maintenance) turf fields at Veterans, Davis, and Gamble Rogers parks; athletic field houses at Davis and Plantation parks; the Nocatee Preserve Trailhead facility; the fishing pier at Alpine Groves Park; renovations to Green Road Boat Ramp and Frank Butler Park West; opened Bird Island Park; addition of field lights at Palencia Park.
- Other Completed Projects – Completed the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall; opened the County transit facility for the Sunshine Bus Company (primarily funded through federal grants); finished County jail renovation to allow more efficiency in handling inmates, and finished County courthouse renovations and expansion to meet mandate to provide adequate court space.
- Transportation – Partnered with FDOT to fund several phases of the I-95 and CR 210 interchange improvements with a $7 million grant and also obtained $2.7 million Federal Stimulus funding for other improvements; completed several intelligent transportation system (ITS) improvements to County traffic signal operations, the Russell Sampson Road upgrade, the West King Street improvements, the new CR 208 Bakersville Bridge, the CR 214 milling and resurfacing, and CR 210 median landscaping improvements.
- Improved Services – Management Information Systems and Building Services developed a new online permitting system (e-Building Services) providing 24-hour access to permits, inspections, and code information; Community Based Care continued exceeding the State’s goal for foster children adoption by 153 percent; Agriculture & Home Economics had their curriculum addressing childhood obesity presented at the National Conference of American Medical Colleges of Nutrition; Library Services implemented the 3rd annual “Food for Fines” program in December allowing donated food in lieu of overdue fines that resulted in over 10,000 canned goods donated for needy families; Environmental Services completed the 2010 turtle nesting season with a total of 902 nests (a 265 percent increase); Solid Waste Management expanded the number of recyclable items collected improving the residential recycling rate for 2010 by over 30 percent.
This long list, although not all encompassing, is a testament not only to the leadership of our County Commission, but also the effort and involvement of our residents and business communities, as well as the commitment of County staff.
2011 – Looking Ahead
The budget cycle never really ends, and we are well into the process of preparing for next year’s budget. The forecast is an additional $12 million of lost revenue in property taxes, on top of the $29 million per year we have lost since 2007.
We – the County and the community – must find the proper way to address those losses while also addressing the desire to maintain our quality of life and pay for the “High Five” unfunded mandates: emergency radio system, stormwater discharge, fire rescue master plan, transportation infrastructure, and County jail capacity. Without a new revenue source, these mandates will drain revenues from existing programs and services such as parks and libraries.
The community has expressed the desire to minimize any increase in ad valorem property taxes which may not be possible this coming year if our quality of life is to be maintained. However, another option to raise the additional revenues that deserves consideration is implementing the local option sales tax, bringing St. Johns County to 7 percent like most other counties in our region and throughout Florida. No decisions have been made in this regard; but in a situation with no easy answers, I hope the community will join in a productive discussion of potential tax increases and quality of life considerations.
The spirit of cooperation and understanding demonstrated by our community over the past few years creates a sense of optimism that working together we will address our future challenges with the same degree of success as in the past years. Thanks again to everyone for being willing to work together in the best interest of the entire community. While difficult challenges lie ahead, I remain confident St. Johns County’s best days lie ahead.
Change of Commissioners
- Farewell to Quinn and Welcome to Miner – Commissioner Ray Quinn was honored at the January 18th County Commission meeting for his year of service to the citizens of the County. Quinn was appointed by Governor Charlie Crist in December 2009 to serve while Commissioner Mark P. Miner was on active military duty. Miner returned to the Commission on January 18th. I join the community in thanking Quinn for his diligence in representing the citizens of St. Johns County during his time in office. We also thank Miner for his military service and welcome him back to the Commission.
- Miner to Host "Re-connect with the Community" Meetings – The public is invited to a series of community meetings to re-connect with Commissioner Miner following his deployment. Six meetings are being held during the next few weeks in all areas of St. Johns County. Click for details.
- Florida Arbor Day – In observation of Florida Arbor Day on January 21st, the Horticulture program, with the help of the Master Gardeners, distributed 1,300 native tree seedlings to the public throughout St. Johns County. In the past four years, the Master Gardeners have given away more than 5,000 tree seedlings to County homeowners.
- Farm to Restaurant – Due to the availability of local fresh vegetables through marketing efforts by the Farm to Restaurant program, two local restaurants are now serving produce from local farms.
- 4-H Activities – The public is invited to the St. Johns County 4-H Fashion Revue and Share the Fun competition on Friday, February 18th at 6:30 pm at the St. Johns County Agricultural Center. You will be treated to a fashion show and performance by 4-H youth with instrumental, vocal, or dramatic act. Other recent 4-H activities included a public speaking contest, as well as a pie making workshop in preparation of the 4-H Pie Contest on February 18th.
- School Education – South Woods Elementary has implemented Garden Boxes at their school for agricultural educational purposes. The Floating Garden Educational program at Timberlin Creek Elementary is reaching 82 students. Also, approximately 1,000 students learned the importance of incorporating dairy and calcium in the diet, with a focus on choosing healthy beverages.
- New Phone System – Code Enforcement now has a phone dialing system to assist in gaining compliance in the area of illegally placed signs in the County’s rights-of-way. This new technology has been implemented successfully in nearby counties and, through coordinated efforts with the MIS department, will assist Code Enforcement in working more efficiently. The system – called VOICENT – is computer-generated and automatically calls phone numbers inserted by Code Enforcement personnel and relays a detailed message about illegally placed signs in the County right-of-way. The system will continue to call and leave the message until the respondent calls Code Enforcement to confirm all illegal signs have been removed and Code Enforcement verifies they are gone. The system will call only on weekdays between 8:30 am and 9:00 pm.
- Miranda Lambert Coming to Amphitheatre – The St. Augustine Amphitheatre will open the 2011 season by hosting American country music star Miranda Lambert on Friday, April 15th. Tickets are going quickly, so get yours before it’s too late. Visit the Amphitheatre’s website or call the box office (904) 209-0367 for information. Also stay tuned as more Amphitheatre shows will be announced very soon.
- Ponte Vedra Concert Hall – The 2011 season at the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall is starting with five amazing shows. First, to kick off the new venue will be Canadian folk-rock band Great Big Sea on Sunday, February 13th, followed by Leon Redbone, the ever famous acoustic guitarist/skilled instrumentalist/comedian, performing on Thursday, February 17th. Third will be much beloved rock stars The B-52s on Sunday, February 20th, fourth will be country super star Travis Tritt on Thursday, February 24th, and to round off this star-studded two weeks is Cuban jazz trumpeter and pianist, Arturo Sandoval, performing on Friday, February 25th. Further show announcements for the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall will be made in the next couple of weeks. Check out the website more info or contact the box office at (904) 209-0367.
- Burn Ban Lifted – After consideration of current fire conditions, the County lifted the burn ban on January 27, 2011. The burn ban was initiated in December due to lack of rainfall, strong winds, dryness, and high levels of humidity. Currently, these conditions have subsided in St. Johns County. Should similar conditions return, officials will re-evaluate and possibly re-instate the burn ban.
- Cautions with Yard Debris – Although critical fire conditions have lessened for our area, fire officials still strongly discourage the burning of residential yard debris. Remember, curbside yard debris pick-up is available to all St. Johns County residents.
- Fire Safety – All residents also are still encouraged to prepare a home safety plan for members of their household, which includes two evacuation routes, a ready supply of food, water and medical needs, and a way to leave. Additionally, remember to create a defensible space surrounding your home free of debris. Clean gutters and roofs of leaves or branches that could easily ignite during a fire. For additional information on wildfire safety and emergency preparation, visit www.sjcfl.us or www.fl-dof.com.
- William Bartram Scenic & Historic Highway – The First Coast American Planning Association and the First Coast Florida Planning and Zoning Association awarded the William Bartram Scenic & Historic Highway (WBSHH) website and Master Plan with a Public Education Award and an Outstanding Master Planning Award. The award-winning website may be viewed at www.bartramscenichighway.com and the Master Plan at www.glatting.com/williambartram/. The awards were accepted by members of the WBSHH, who attended the awards celebration with County staff and consultants who worked on the two projects.
Health & Human Services
- Home Again St. Johns – Social Services staff has participated in Home Again St. Johns, the local initiative to address homeless needs for both housing and food. The group found that one challenge is not necessarily the availability of food, but rather delivering the food where it is needed. With hard work from staff and great community support from the Sertoma Club, Pie in the Sky, and other organizations, a new truck brigade was formed. This partnership has distributed more than 20,000 pounds of food in the past seven weeks. Congratulations to Home Again St. Johns for successfully mobilizing a volunteer base and utilizing existing resources to distribute more food to those in need.
Housing & Community Services
- Employee of the Year – St. Johns County held its annual Employee Service Awards Ceremony in January, at which Benjamin Coney was honored as the St. Johns County Employee of the Year. Coney works as the Assistant Director with Housing and Community Services and was selected from a highly talented and deserving group of nominees for this special award. The award is presented to the employee who, through nomination, has demonstrated public service excellence and made exemplary organizational contributions throughout the year. Ben’s commitment to community revitalization, leadership, and volunteer work throughout the county were just a few of the qualities that set him apart.
- Weatherization – The St. Johns Housing Partnership offers a weatherization assistance program to improve the energy-efficiency in homes of low-income citizens. Improvements can include insulation, air sealing and caulking, weather stripping, or duct and HVAC repairs. For information and qualification info, visit www.sjhp.org or call (904) 824-0902 (St. Augustine) or (904) 692-3902 (Hastings, Elkton, and Flagler Estates).
- St. Johns Reads – The St. Johns County Public Library System invites the community to join together in the enjoyment of reading for the 6th annual St. Johns Reads program. The month of February has been designated for the community reading project, and this year activities will focus on The Art of Racing in the Rain, a novel by Garth Stein. The Art of Racing in the Rain is told through the eyes of the family dog, Enzo. Throughout the month of February, each library location will host a variety of programs and events, including book talks, pet adoption opportunities, pet therapy dog seminars, a Hospice Five Wishes program, and system-wide raffles for all sorts of prizes. For more information visit www.sjcpls.org.
- Library Snapshot Day – As part of a State Library initiative to illustrate the central role libraries play to the community, St. Johns County took part in “Library Snapshot Day” on January 25th. During this day-long event, photos and comments were shared on library websites and Facebook pages all over the state, showing a vibrant and dynamic library community. Click here for statewide photos.
- What to Read – Library staff recommends a new database on the Library homepage called “Books and Authors.” Provided through the State Library, Books & Authors, helps you match your reading interests with books you will enjoy.
Office of Management and Budget
- Fiscal Year 2011 Financial Plan – The Office of Management & Budget (OMB) has completed the County’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2011 Financial Plan, Budget-in-Brief, and 2011-2015 Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) and placed them under its department link on the County’s website. The FY 2011 Financial Plan has been submitted to the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) in consideration for receiving the GFOA’s Distinguished Budget Presentation Award, the highest quality award for a budget document currently available. The County has received the award for 18 consecutive years. OMB has also completed the final FY 2010 Performance Measures Report and will also be placing this report under its department link on the County’s website. This Report highlights performance measures that indicate how effectively or efficiently County department services are being provided and is considered a best management practice. Despite continued decreasing revenue in general, many County departments continued to show improvement in performance measures for FY 2010.
- Biodiesel Fuel – The Fleet Fuel Section produced 1,750 gallons of biodiesel during the month of January and is continuing its increase in production for the third month in a row.
- Watershed Models – The Engineering Division is developing and maintaining regional watershed models for many uses as a coastal county in Florida. St. Johns County has areas with significant potential to flooding due to storm surges or heavy rainfall, and land development associated with population growth has at times exacerbated flooding and created new flooding issues. FEMA’s flood mapping program does not adequately define some areas prone to flooding, and the St. Johns River Water Management District’s stormwater permitting process has not been effective in preventing flooding from occurring in new development or as a result of new development. The Countywide Drainage Model will also offer the following advantages: (1) improved identification and assessment of flood risks; (2) improved ability to resolve to flooding problems; (3) The ability to plan surface water quality improvements to comply with changing and more demanding regulatory requirements; and (4) improve the County’s ability to manage stormwater impacts associated with current and projected future growth on both regional and project-by-project levels. Regional model data is stored in a GIS database as it is developed. Model development is occurring in a phased, multi-year process and will rely on and complement the GIS data previously developed by the County and other agencies.
Recreation and Parks
- Last Chance for Pre-season Beach Passes – Beach passes for 2011 are available at pre-season prices until March 2nd. The early season prices are $30 for St. Johns County residents and $40 for non-residents. After March 2nd they increase to $40 for residents and $50 for non-residents. Beach passes may be purchased at St. Johns County Tax Collectors Offices, the St. Johns County Fishing Pier in St. Augustine Beach, and the St. Johns County Recreation and Parks Department located on Mizell Road. For more information about beach passes, call the Recreation and Parks Department at (904) 209-0333.
- FREE Demo Day - St. Johns Golf Club is hosting a free Demo Day on Saturday, February 19th from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm. The club will have representatives from top industry manufacturers available to demonstrate their newest products. The Demo Day event is free and open to the public. Golfers of all levels are welcome. In addition to the demonstrations, there will be giveaways and door prizes. Learn more about St. Johns Golf Club at www.sjgc.com.
- Super Summer Spectacular – Registration for the 2011 Super Summer Spectacular camp program will be held February 28th through March 11th on the County website. Find registration information and other details at www.sjcfl.us/recreation.
- Recreation Spring Registration – All County youth sports associations are taking registrations for their spring seasons. Contact Recreation Superintendent Betsy Clarkson at (904) 209-0335 or find information on the County website.
Thanks, as always, for continuing to read this information and being an active participant in the discussion and decision-making process.