Flagler County participates in tri-county meeting leaving with consensus to work together on shared challenges
April 7, 2021 – Flagler County officials on April 1 participated in a tri-county meeting held in Putnam County with representatives of that county as well as those from St. Johns County that resulted in a commitment from all involved to work together on shared challenges – attainable workforce housing and broadband – which, in turn, affect economic development.
Putnam County Commission Chair Larry Harvey kicked off the meeting with a word of thanks to Flagler County Vice-Chair Joe Mullins for contacting him about bringing the three entities together.
“Collaboration of all three counties is very important to all of us,” Mullins said, later noting that all three neighboring counties are experiencing tremendous growth. “We have to look at our infrastructure – market the strengths, and pay attention to the weaknesses.”
Throughout the meeting – which also touched on topics such as increasing economic development, addressing substance abuse, and protecting the industry of agriculture – the conversation circled back to the fact that there are uniting similarities between the three counties: a single hospital per county, a shortage of attainable workforce housing, and areas where a lack of broadband infrastructure hinders the desired growth for the area.
St. Johns County Commission Chair Jeremiah Ray Blocker said his county often faces public opposition to further residential development. Mullins and Harvey agreed that the costs to private developers, who are in the business to turn a profit, have hurt the business of home construction at the $100,000 mark.
“You have to analyze the moving parts,” said Flagler County Administrator Jerry Cameron. “(Government has) driven the private sector out of the workforce housing market. We did that through growth management … impact fees drive up the cost of a home.”
He alluded to a proposal that will within 45 days come before the Flagler County Board of County Commissioners and is aimed at easing the process for workforce housing developers.
“You have to mitigate these costs – remove the barriers,” Cameron said. “We’re calling it ‘Planned Attainable Development,’ and it will allow us to weigh the benefits (of a proposed development). We can consider waiving the fees.”
Lack of infrastructure – including broadband – within some areas of all three counties is also a hindrance to attainable housing. “This (broadband) is as important as water and electricity,” Mullins said.
Flagler County Chief of Staff Jorge Salinas, who has a strong background in information technology, made a presentation to shed light on what has been a topic of conversation for at least two years around cost and accessibility.
“There are different options for broadband,” Salinas said. “The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) has a definition that relates to download and upload speeds. It is a minimum of 25 megabytes per second (Mbps) download and 3 megabytes per second upload.”
Salinas said there are 10 bills going through Congress regarding mapping to ensure everyone is provided access.
“We need to get the mapping correct,” Putnam Chair Harvey said. “COVID-19 caused luxuries to become necessities.”