Lake County’s elected officials are asking the state for $43.4 million this year in the legislative session that just got underway. That’s got to be a record high for funding local, sometimes “pet,” projects.
Oh, so many happy social service agencies and municipal governments right now! And so many doomed to tears and frustration later.
Lake is lucky to get a wooden nickel out of those rascals in Tallahassee, and the chances of the county’s three Florida House representatives doing the kind of lobbying necessary to get these measures into the budget is highly unlikely.
Then, each project would have to make it through the Senate and survive Gov. Ron DeSantis’ red pen for line-item vetoes. Some actually do, but it’s a roll of the dice that often depends on what issues are popular in the state on any given year.
Let’s look at a sampling of the requests.
Rep. Brett Hage, R-Oxford, is asking for about $5 million. Some $970,000 would go toward a sewer force main in Fruitland Park. Several of his other seven appropriations bills also are for utility improvements, and one is for a senior center.
Another, a $500,000 request for House of Hope, would help provide treatment for drug addicts, mostly in Sumter County. The agency’s building was sold, and it is in temporary quarters. About $400,000 would go toward buying a new place, the formal request shows.
Rep. Jennifer Sullivan wants $13 million to spruce up her district, including $2 million that would pay for the cost of upgrading septic systems in the Green Swamp, Wekiva study area, Silver Springs springshed and homes within 660 feet of a lake or canal.
The request is a worthy one but lacks the urgency that often drives successful entreaties for funding from legislators.
Among her other appropriations bills is one similar to the Lake County septic system project, only in the Wekiva area of Orange County. That one, for $1.2 million, would replace 1,690 septic tanks in 20 subdivisions in the Wekiva Springs area with sewer service. The money requested would be used to design the proposed system.
What’s amusing is that both Lake and Orange checked the “Increases Tourism” box on the part of the form that asks why the appropriation is a good idea. Funny how people like swimming in Florida lakes not contaminated with human waste.
Sullivan also asked for $1.9 million for Lake County Fire Rescue to buy a breathing apparatus system to “allow resumption of live fire training”; $1.5 million for a new education building at the Trout Lake Nature Center north of Eustis; $1.4 million for a mile-long trail connecting Ferndale Preserve to Lake Apopka; $1 million to connect Umatilla’s sewer system to the city of Eustis and finally, $200,000 to help create a Tavares History Museum.
The last representative is Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey-in-the-Hills, whose $25.3 million worth of requests reflect big plans for Lake County.
Lake would be twirling and clicking its virtual heels if he could fulfill even a small percentage of them. Did I mention we’ll be checking at the end of the session to see what got through and what got killed?
Sabatini’s largest ask is for $7.5 million worth of herbicide to spray invasive hydrilla plants in lakes. The bill states that the goal is “to restore hydrilla maintenance levels to pre-Hurricane Irma condition.” Unfortunately, this is one of those effects of a hurricane not immediately felt or catalogued.
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The state representative’s most intriguing entreaty, however, is for $3.9 million to build an 11,000-square-foot regional training center to teach 300 to 400 students diesel and automotive technology, including the technical aspects of autonomous and electric cars and renewable diesel.
Tavares is offering to pay planning expenses, including environmental costs, and is providing land for the Lake Technical College project. That’s a decent deal for the taxpayer if the state then comes through with construction money.
Among Sabatini’s other requests are $1 million above the usual allocation for LifeStream Behavioral Center to treat patients under the Baker Act, which allows patients to be involuntarily held for up to 72 hours to have their mental health evaluated; $1 million for Leesburg to upgrade its wastewater-treatment plant for the arrival of a Villages community and $750,000 for a nonprofit called the Debate Initiative, which seeks to work with the Florida Department of Education to teach kids to debate.
Good grief. Those last two should be trashed. The Villages should pay for their own utilities if they want to expand, and debating is a skill that should be learned in school clubs, not funded by the Legislature, especially when Lake is without a single emergency shelter for homeless people. Let’s get our priorities straight.
Next week, we’ll take a look at some of the best and worst bills that have been filed by legislators you elected.