Tuesday’s session was an opportunity for local leaders to lobby their leaders in Tallahassee and press the issue on local bills and concerns that require funding from the Capitol. The delegation included its chair, Rep. John Cortes, D-Kissimmee; Rep. Josie Tomkow, R-Polk City; Rep. Mike La Rosa R-St. Cloud; and Sen. Victor Torres, D-Orlando.
It’s a time for those leaders to ask that their local projects be added to next year’s budget to receive state funding. And some are big-ticket items.
The ask from Osceola County, which has become annual now, was $10 million in one-time funding and $5 million in recurring funding for BRIDG technology efforts at NeoCity, including next-generation Defense department projects just signed into that could make a $25 million impact combined.
The city of St. Cloud asked for $3 million toward an advanced welding training program, with the payoff being a fleet of trained welders positioned for local well-paying jobs.
Officials from Good Samaritan Village asked for $3.7 million toward a wastewater treatment and management program. The retirement community flooded during Hurricane Irma in 2017 and was evacuated.
Among St. Cloud’s requests were $386,000 to dredge the Chisholm Park channel, $375,000 to fund a sea plane base on East Lake Toho and a $1.9 million road expansion at the request of St. Cloud Regional Medical Center.
Kissimmee requested $600,000 toward the final stage of a Hill Street drainage project, and legislative help toward funding more school resource officers and for indigent care and transport.
The county’s other asks were for $1 million diversion wall to divert pollutants that can get into Lake Toho, to delay transferring responsibility of SunRail from the Florida Department of Transportation to the county, to fund FWC’s invasive plant project and to free up affordable housing assistance dollars.
The school district, reporting that Osceola County is 67th in the state — dead last — in operational funding per student, fund the same compression allocation program that 27 other fast-growing counties participate in.
The district’s lobbyist asked the state not to take away operational funding to fund Gov. Ron DeSantis’ budget mandate to increase teacher salaries, while Osceola’s teacher union president asked the representatives to fight to fund pre-kindergarten teachers, who were included in that pat raise.
“Invest in our staff, out students and our future,” union president Apryle Jackson said.
Valencia College, which faces the same challenges, asked for a bump in what is the least-funded community college per capita in the state.
Sheriff Russ Gibson himself asked for support for a bill that would allow law enforcement to use drones in operations, and for funding to expand the school SRO program.
“Parents want safety for their children, bottom line,” he said. “It’s a buy-in for what we’ve been able to accomplish in our county’s schools, which we’re addressing as a community problem.”
Low-income housing came up numerous times over the hours. It’s a priority in St. Cloud, which recently became eligible for over $300,000 in funding after reaching 50,000 residents, but there’s more out there, city planner Andre Anderson said. Habitat for Humanity spoke of how many residents are spending an unsustainable 50 percent of income on housing, and that the average cost of a U.S. 192 motel room is $1,084 per month.
Coal ash was a topic, with those concerned noting there’s no way to track where it comes from if arriving from out of state. Sen. Torres noted he’d already submit a bill prohibiting coal ash from out of state, but it didn’t have House of Representatives companion yet.
Residents of Poinciana and Turnberry Reserve, who have had recent homeowner’s association rifts, asked for reform that would bridge the gap from the state to local agencies, who usually refer residents with issues back to the state.
Mental health was a topic, from reforms in prisons to funding for Park Place Behavioral’s central receiving system; Executive Director Jim Shanks reminded the legislators that its grant for services ends at the end of the year.