INDIAN RIVER COUNTY - Indian River County Commissioners have approved a set of legislative priorities for the 2021 Florida legislative session that begins on March 2.
Most of the priorities outlined by County Administrator Jason Brown were agreed to by the commissioners with little debate. The only real point of contention was the county’s position on high speed rail.
Newly elected Commissioner Laura Moss asked to be named the point person on the train issue. Because her position in support of a train station in Indian River County is at odds with other commissioners who have expressed complete opposition to high speed rail, Comm. Moss was not selected as the point person.
That point of disagreement led Comm. Moss to cast the sole vote against the package of legislative priorities, which were approved by a vote of 4-1.
Despite that disagreement, the county’s 2021 position is somewhat nuanced from its previous absolute opposition to the high speed trains. For the new legislative year, the county’s focus will be to advocate for “safety requirements for higher-speed passenger rail in order to protect the state of Florida’s citizens, local governments, wildlife, waterways, and natural environment,” and opposition to “any effort to shift the cost burden of operating and maintaining passenger rail onto local governments or the state of Florida.”
As he led the discussion, County Administrator Brown emphasized the importance of expanding broadband internet service in rural and underserved areas, another county priority.
“This has been an issue in our rural areas for quite some time,” Mr. Brown said. “It has become all too apparent how significant that is in 2020, when you have these areas that are underserved for high speed internet access, with students having a hard time with distance learning, and employees having a hard time with distance working. This has put a magnifying glass on this as an economic development issue, an education issue, and a vital service to the public issue.”
The commissioners’ approved a position of support for legislation which directs the state Office of Broadband “to expand access to effective broadband internet service in rural and underserved areas; and supports funding for programs and initiatives that promote access to effective broadband internet service in rural and underserved areas.”
Other Indian River County legislative priorities include the Indian River Lagoon, beach restoration and nourishment, recycling, short-term vacation rentals, and affordable housing.
The document declares that Indian River County is the “guardian” of 22 miles of the 156-mile long lagoon. The commissioners declared their support for “policies that will enhance the economic wellbeing of Indian River County by treating and monitoring the health of the lagoon; and supports funding for projects, including septic to sewer conversions, that will aid in protection of the lagoon.”
For the beaches, the county declared its support for “the creation of a newly dedicated and reoccurring statutory funding source for beach restoration and renourishment projects.”
On recycling, the county’s position supports the modification of Florida’s existing 2020 75% recycling goal, “to reflect a statewide goal that is based on energy efficiency rather than weight; and opposes any fines or consequences associated with contamination or not meeting the recycling goal.”
On short-term vacation rentals, county staff referenced a bill introduced in the Florida legislature last year which would have preempted local ordinances related to short-term vacation rentals. As that unsuccessful bill is expected to be reintroduced in the 2021 legislative session, the county took a position opposing “policies that would preempt a local government’s ability to have local ordinances related to vacation rentals.”
Finally on affordable housing, the county expressed support for increasing the supply of safe, affordable housing for low income individuals and families by dedicating certain tax revenues to support local affordable housing programs, and “investing in affordable housing to create jobs in home repair, hardening homes, retrofitting and constructing affordable rental units, and lowering the energy costs to make housing more affordable.”