Governor Ron DeSantis signs the 2023-24 state budget, which he termed the “Framework for Freedom.” [ Governor’s office ]
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State budget passes with no Gulf County vetoes

On June 15, Gov. Ron DeSantis trimmed $510.9 million from a record-high state spending plan. While DeSantis didn’t give any explanation for projects he slashed for the fiscal year, the governor’s line-item vetoes put the state budget at roughly $116.5 billion, a 6 percent increase from the current year’s spending plan.

But this year, the governor did not veto any projects in Gulf County for the second year in a row.

County Administrator Michael Hammond said officials were particularly excited to see funding for a new Gulf County airport included in the state’s budget. This is the second budget year in a row the project will receive state funding, after appropriations for the project were vetoed by the governor in 2021.

“We survived the veto cut, thank God,” Hammond said. “Of course our biggest single item was the airport, which is great… That’ll get us through permitting and whatnot and hopefully provide some construction money.

This time around, the project was awarded $1 million.

“Next year we’re going to be asking the state for some construction money, which we’re hoping to be moving forward on around that time.”

The Gulf County Board of County Commissioners unanimously voted in April to move forward with a public-private partnership with the St. Joe Company for the potential construction of the airport.

The eventual facility, if constructed, would be owned by the county and leased by the private partner, in this case, The St. Joe Company.

It will not be large enough to accommodate large commercial airplanes, but instead smaller private aircrafts.

The state’s 2023-24 budget also included six other line items heading towards Gulf County, including significant funding for several local public safety projects.

Wewahitchka will be receiving $1 million to go towards the construction of their new fire station, which has been tied up in pending litigation for upwards of a year and a half.

This came after the city’s attorney, Michelle Jordan, advised the city commissioners to seek alternative funding sources for the facility’s construction after attempts at mediation between the parties were unsuccessful. The funding would allow the city to build a new fire station complex without having to wait for a decision on the current facility, which sits incomplete.

“That’s going to allow them to build a brand new fire station,” State Representative Jason Shoaf said in May. “And they need it desperately.”

The Wetappo Creek Volunteer Fire Department will receive $500,000 to go towards fire apparatus, and the Gulf County Sheriff’s Office will be receiving funding to construct a facility to house their vehicles and equipment.

“We’re really excited about it,” said Sheriff Mike Harrison. “The county owns the lot behind our building, and we currently don’t really have a storage facility. We have to keep our trucks and trailers out where they are exposed to the elements.”

“We’re hoping this funding will allow us to extend the shelf life of that equipment.”

Beyond public safety dollars, Gulf District Schools received $2.5 million to go towards the construction of and improvements to athletic facilities.

Going into the governor’s review process, Shoaf said he felt this funding might be vulnerable to DeSantis’ veto.

“(The governor’s) office, when they see a project, they may not realize it’s in a fiscally constrained county,” Shoaf said in May. “And they might look at something like those sports complex dollars and say ‘wait a minute.’ The state typically, traditionally, doesn’t fund high school sports facilities. But it’s my job and Senator Simon’s job to make sure that his office knows that it’s Hurricane Michael related and it’s (a) fiscally constrained (county).”

Gulf County Superintendent Jim Norton said the funding will go towards modernizing existing sporting facilities throughout the county so that the local facilities could remain on par with those in neighboring districts.

The county also received $500,000 to go towards safe, secure and sanitary housing, and the City of Port St. Joe received $1.5 million to go towards street resurfacing.

“Thank you to Governor DeSantis for signing a historic budget that invests in our priorities while providing meaningful tax breaks for Florida families and businesses,” Shoaf said in a statement. “I’m proud this budget includes record funding for workforce education programs and a notable $400 million investment into rural broadband infrastructure that our local counties desperately need. With this budget, Florida is leading the nation by example with a balanced budget and common-sense governance.”

The 2023-24 state budget goes into effect on July 1.

The News Service of Florida also contributed to this report.

What made the state’s budget for 2023-24?

#140 Wetappo Creek/Gulf County Fire Apparatus — $500,000

#176 Safe, Secure and Sanitary Housing Gulf County — $500,000

#185 Gulf District Schools Athletic Venues — $2.5 million

#194 Wewahitchka Fire Station — $ 1 million

#242 Gulf County Sheriff’s Office Expansion and Hardening — $250,000

#466 Gulf County Airport Site Work/Construction — $1 million

#510 Port St. Joe City Street Resurfacing — $1.5 million

Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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