Homeless center, funding top local wish list for state

Santa Fe College President Jackson Sasser speaks during the annual Alachua County legislative delegation hearing at the Santa Fe College Kirkpatrick Center on Tuesday.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, December 11, 2012 at 9:25 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, December 11, 2012 at 9:25 p.m.

Increased funding, the possibility of a one-stop center for homeless residents and autonomy were themes among speakers at the annual Alachua County legislative delegation hearing Tuesday.

Local governments, organizations and residents brought their concerns to state Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Orange Park, Rep. Clovis Watson, D-Alachua, and Rep. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, at the Santa Fe College Kirkpatrick Center.

Alachua County Commissioner Mike Byerly asked lawmakers for more predictability from the Legislature during the budgeting process, citing revenue sharing and tradeoffs with the state as a reason for requesting more consistency while budgets are bound to be tight.

He also said the county and the city of Gainesville are on the same page regarding the possibility of using the former Gainesville Correctional Institution, which lies off Northeast 39th Avenue near the airport, as a one-stop homeless center.

Byerly said since the state has recently listed part of the property as surplus, the city and county have agreed that the site is a good choice for the center.

He noted that the current plan for a center, which would place it in northwest Gainesville, is embroiled in litigation after the owner of a nearby property raised zoning concerns.

Gainesville Mayor Craig Lowe said the property is appealing because of its existing facilities.

"It has a number of buildings that have already the facilities in place," he said. "Restrooms, showers, dormitories and buildings that could be utilized for a wide range of services such as counseling, medical care, dental care, job skills education and so forth."

University of Florida President Bernie Machen told lawmakers that funding is again a concern for higher education. With a budget that has decreased by 30 percent in the past five years, he said, he hopes this year marks a turnaround in state support for higher education.

"We think the university system ... really does have to have an infusion of new resources this year in order for us to do that things the people of the state want us to do," he said.

He said he would like to see the state reinstitute a program in which universities recruit top faculty and the state provides matching funds to make the hires.

He also said he hopes that with the absence of funding for the Public Education Capital Outlay, or PECO, the state will find money to meet universities' maintenance needs.

"We have identified $16 million of critical infrastructure needs just in the area of deferred maintenance," he said.

Jackson Sasser, president of Santa Fe College, asked the delegation for support on the recently announced four-year bachelor degree in public safety management, which would launch next fall if the Legislature approved it.

The degree has been proposed as part of Gov. Rick Scott's challenge to Florida's colleges to create degrees that cost $10,000 or less.

"It is symbolic of the 28 colleges committing to doing everything we can to get individuals to work at a reasonable cost," he said.

Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent Dan Boyd asked the legislators to keep an eye on any legislation that removes local control from school districts.

"We are very much interested in accountability and local control," he said. "As I've worked in this profession for many years, I see local control of public school districts being eroded and taken over by the good intentions of the Florida Legislature and the Department of Education."

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