By Ken Jackson
A year after Gov. Rick Scott vetoed state funding for Osceola County’s sensor research facility now under construction, the tune has changed and the money is flowing south from Tallahassee again.
The county also avoided Scott’s veto pen on Tuesday on three other major legislative requests aside from the $15 million coming to help construct and stock the Florida Advanced Manufacturing Research Center.
Osceola will also receive $12 million to build the Valencia College Poinciana Campus and $750,000 for the Lake Toho Northern Everglades Project. The School District will receive $4 million for capital projects that local legislators desperately lobbied for.
Those projects were not subject to the $256 million in line-item vetoes Scott made to the $79.3 billion budget approved by the Florida Legislature last week as its session ended.
That’s over $31 million for projects essential to positioning Osceola County’s economy for the future.
“We didn’t get anything we shouldn’t have gotten, that’s for sure,” County Manager Don Fisher said. “On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d call it a 10. It was a big day for Osceola, and a lot of work went into it. We’re thrilled with the work of the Osceola Legislative Effort and our lobbyists.”
He said he was glad the announcement came just days after the Legislature approved the budget, cutting the time Fisher, county staffers and other leaders sat on pins and needles.
“We appreciate he sat down so quickly and found in our favor or it would have been a longer stretch of wondering if we had to seek other funding,” Fisher said.
Of the money approved for FAMRC, $5 million of it is recurring funds that will come annually for the foreseeable future.
“We were seeking $10 million recurring, and we’ll go back and ask again next year, but this is a good start toward funding ICAMR (the International Consortium for Advanced Manufacturing Research),” Fisher said.
The county and its lobbyists took cues from Enterprise Florida and the Department of Economic Opportunity after last year’s request was vetoed, the county manager said. County officials took that direction to highlight the value of the money Osceola needed from the state for FAMRC and show how it would turn into something tangible, such as new companies joining ICAMR and becoming new partners (with new capital) in the sensor facility.
The $12 million for the new Valencia campus means construction can start soon and it can open for classes in the fall of 2017.
The School District will use the extra $4 million it received, added into the budget by state Senators Darren Soto (D-Orlando) and Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) and Rep. Mike La Rosa (R-St. Cloud), for construction projects. School Board Chairman Clarence Thacker said while it’s just a drop in the bucket compared to upcoming building projects — a proposed new high school on Boggy Creek Road will cost $70 million to construct — it’s $4 million the district didn’t have Monday.
“It’s a sign that Tallahassee is starting to hear about our problems and did something to help,” he said. “It makes me optimistic, and that optimism going forward is worth more the $4 million.”
The county is working toward qualifying for extra money through the High Growth Funding Formula, which assists districts that lack the property tax base to keep pace with exploding population. The criteria for that is outdated, but the state is working to determine what it should be to help the counties that need it most, Thacker said.
“They’re seeing that we’re trying to help ourselves,” he said. “We have the highest impact fees in the state, but you only get those one time, when a new home is built.
“We’re doing everything we’re able to do. I want to thank our legislators who made that clear to those in Tallahassee.”
The $750,000 for the water project will be used to design and build a pollution diversion system that will send stormwater out of Kissimmee’s ditch system to a pond to be built on the Judge Farm property and pull as much as 7,800 pounds of pollutants from the water before it reaches Lake Tohopekaliga.