June 16, 2017 1:00 a.m.
The most recent session of the Florida legislature was not necessarily beneficial to local governments (cities and counties). A variety of measures usurped local control (and a few others were successfully rejected). The state constitutionally enshrined home rule powers (adopted by voters in 1968 and enacted by the Legislature in 1973) are introduced with the following:
“Municipalities shall have governmental, corporate and proprietary powers to enable them to conduct municipal government, perform municipal functions and render municipal services, and may exercise power for municipal purposes except as otherwise provided by law.”
What the Legislature has invariably attempted to do is to create additional laws to restrict municipal powers.
The Florida League of Cities (admittedly an organization representing Florida cities) argues that “The most precious powers a city in Florida has are its Home Rule powers. The ability to establish its form of government through its charter, and to then enact ordinances, codes, plans and resolutions without prior state approval is a tremendous authority. To further be able to enforce them ‘at home’ and to make necessary changes as a city grows is a great reflection of the trust that citizens have in their respective city leaders.”
An example of the State undercutting municipal authority include new statutes related to wireless telecommunications: telecommunication companies now pretty much have unfettered use of municipal rights-of-way for the purpose of installing infrastructure. In other words, “small” or “micro” wireless antennae and equipment may be placed in front of your house or business (within the right-of-way) with little oversight (and even less revenue for the use of the right-of-way) available to the City.
Another pre-emption of local government is that charter schools that wish to utilize facilities such as churches, theaters, or community centers are now exempt from local review and approval, including zoning and site plans.
A less controversial pre-emption was the State assuming regulatory control of transportation network companies (Uber, Lyft). The new statutes establish a statewide regulatory scheme that includes insurance coverage standards, fare and rate disclosure requirements, antidiscrimination policies, minimum background checks (Level 2 not required) and other provisions. Additional restrictions prohibit local governments from imposing a tax, requiring a license, or subjecting a TNC or a driver to the governmental entity’s rate, entry, operational or any other requirements.
House Speaker Richard Corcoran championed an increase in the Homestead Exemption for Florida property owners. The Legislature will place the increased exemption on the November, 2018, ballot (to amend the State Constitution). When likely passed, the Corcoran Homestead Exemption of 2018 will likely be renamed the Corcoran Municipal Tax Levy Increase of 2019.
Significant bills were rejected (demonstrating some degree of good governance) in Tallahassee, most notably HB 17, which would have truly gutted Florida home rule. Local governments would have only been permitted to take action on issues specifically not usurped by the State, shifting local government powers from permissive to restrictive. Opposition to HB 17 was widespread across the state. Don’t be surprised if the assault on local government continues next time the Legislature convenes.
Despite the attacks, the City of Fernandina Beach did, for the second straight year, fare well with regard to some project funding. Shepherded by Sen. Aaron Bean, $500,000 was appropriated to fund stormwater drainage north of downtown, along Alachua and Broome Streets from Front Street to 6th Street. This area is referred to as Area 5 in the City’s 2016 Stormwater Report and is funded as a continuation of the stormwater work previously funded by the State ($900,000; similarly nurtured by Sen. Bean and then-Rep. Adkins).
With the State funding for these projects, the City’s often-neglected stormwater infrastructure is improving. The City’s Stormwater Manager, Mr. Andre Desilet, who assumed stormwater responsibilities from Utilities Director Mr. John Mandrick, has overseen several new projects and has others under review for additional funding. I expect that more good news related to stormwater infrastructure will be forthcoming under Mr. Desilet’s supervision. He is building a new department that, with time and resources, will contribute to the enhanced environmental quality of life in Fernandina Beach.