On Tuesday, Florida Gov. Rick Scott surprised many people when he announced substantial changes to the proposed state budget earlier than expected. The city of St. Augustine was particularly affected by these budget cuts, and local officials are now urging the governor to reconsider.
According to Jacksonville.com, two important St. Augustine projects were among the casualties on Gov. Scott’s budget veto list. The governor struck more than $256 million in funding from the proposed $82.3 billion budget before lawmakers could even send him the finalized proposal.
The projected budget cuts include $200,000 for a West Augustine sewer expansion. The vetoes will also eliminate funds that would’ve helped to restore the deteriorating Lightner building on King St., which now contains the City Hall and other offices.
“We’re not giving up on West Augustine,” City Manager John Regan said. “We’re not really giving up on either project yet.”
Regan called the governor’s proposed cuts a “preliminary veto list,” adding that the city is in close contact with state legislative consultants to learn more about Gov. Scott’s reason for striking the funding. A news release from Gov. Scott’s office claimed that the sewer expansion project did not “provide a clear return for investment.”
Only about 3% of homeowners say that sewer replacement is in their imminent future, but municipal entities around the country are frantically looking to enhance their sewer systems after the Flint water crisis. A sewer system expansion would make help to ease the minds of residents, in addition to providing a boost for the local economy.
St. Augustine Mayor Nancy Shaver vehemently disagrees with the governor’s assessment that sewer expansion is not a wise investment, saying that the area needs a better infrastructure in order to attract more commercial activity.
“You don’t get economic vitality unless you have infrastructure that will support it,” Shaver said.
Among the more notable budget cuts was $15 million for construction of a Center of Innovation Technology Education at Eastern Florida State College. Gov. Scott also vetoed a $10 million proposal to make “quiet zone” improvement near railroads across the state.
When the city submitted its proposal for sewer expansion funding, it explained that the project would “construct force mains, upgrade pumping systems and new gravity systems for commercial development and workforce housing.”
Should Gov. Scott reconsider his veto, the funding would be secured by July and the project would be completed around December. If the funding does not get approved in this budget session, St. Augustine officials will continue to push for sewer expansion from the state in the future.
The city is focused on bringing more jobs to the community, and it feels as though improving its infrastructure is the only way to accomplish this. For now, local officials will just have to wait for the governor’s final decision.