Less than a month after Polk County appeared likely to receive $6.2 million in state grants, the money was removed from consideration.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has allowed the June 30 deadline to pass without approving a special budget bill from the Florida Legislature. As a result, $175 million will be returned to the state’s general budget.
The Legislative and Budget Committee decided to use the surplus funds from this year’s session to award 238 “Local Assistance Grants” statewide in September. Republican Senator Kerry Stargel of Lakeland chaired the committee, and Republican Rep. Jay Trumbull of Panama City served as vice chair.
Before:Legislative Commission awards Polk County $6.2 million in local grants
in the meantime:Bock Tower Gardens Receives $500,000 Grant
R-Polk City Rep. Josie Tomkow is also a member of the committee, which is made up of seven state senators and seven representatives.
Congress funded this year’s budget grant, along with a pool of $1,000 bonuses promised to first responders. Florida’s surplus funding for grants and other initiatives comes primarily from federal funds provided for relief during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Florida House official guidance, legislators could request occasional awards for “privately run programs to support local governments, educational institutions, or local initiatives.”
Grants that would have been funded
These are the 13 grants that funded projects in Polk County.
- Aerospace Center for Excellence and Sun ‘n Fun Aerospace Expo Resiliency Plan, $450,000
- Fort Meade Area Multipurpose Emergency Shelter and Equestrian Center, $250,000
- Fort Meade Community Athletic Court, $103,380
- Fort Meade fire engine replacement, $700,000
- Frostproof Clinch Lake Stormwater Drainage Upgrade and Shoreline Stabilization, $500,000
- Lakeland SewerCAD model, $247,500
- Lakeland Police and Youth Mentoring Program, $100,000
- Lakeland Se7en Wetlands Water Education Center, $950,000
- New Beginnings High School Innovation Lab, $808,600
- One More Child Health Education Program, $300,000
- Peace River Center Information Technology Infrastructure and Cyber Security, $866,651
- Respite Care and Placement for Children in High Needs, $500,000
- Life Skills House, Pathway School of Excellence, Southeastern University, $457,500
Additionally, One More Child, a Lakeland-based nonprofit, awarded $5 million to a campus for children and families in Sarasota.
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DeSantis’ office did not release an explanation for his decision not to approve the grant, and his office did not respond to a request for comment made by Ledger on Friday morning.
For years, Lakeland officials have sought funding to build an education center at the Se7en wetlands. Congress included $800,000 in the 2018 project, but at the time it was the government. Rick Scott rejected the item. DeSantis rejected his $400,000 allocation for Se7en Wetlands in 2020, removing his $5 million budget item for an education center that was included in this year’s budget.
Lakeland Mayor Bill Mutz said in a text message, “We are disappointed that the decision has been made to postpone the education of Polk County students by not providing Se7en Wetlands with an outdoor learning lab.” It is essential for students to discover and understand the importance of treating wastewater by natural means in protected areas.
“We hope this decision will be reconsidered by the governor, recognizing the need to raise awareness of water conservation,” he added.
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R-Lakeland MP Colleen Burton has submitted a funding request for Se7en Wetlands in this year’s budget. Burton, who is currently running for the Florida Senate, did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.
Stargel and Tomkow also did not respond to a request for comment on Friday morning.
R-Fort Meade Rep. Melony Bell has submitted three requests to fund Fort Meade’s projects that the legislative committee included in a $175 million package. She listed Fort Her City of Meade administrator Jean Bagnall as a requester for the fire engine and shelter and equestrian center, and Wendy Dodge as a lobbyist for Polk County Public Schools as a playground requester.
Bagnall said Friday morning that he was unaware of the governor’s decision and could not comment.Bell’s budget plan said Fort Meade’s fire trucks are out of service because several are old and in need of repairs. The request said the funds would have replaced the engine from 1986.
Bell said last month that he had been looking for an equestrian center in Fort Meade since he was on the Polk County Commission about eight years ago. In the next fiscal year’s budget, the Polk County Commission allocated his $6 million for the equestrian center in the Fort Meade He Outdoor Recreation Area.
Tomkow requested an $808,600 grant for New Beginnings High School, an at-risk student-focused charter school with campuses in Lakeland, Winter Haven, and Fort Meade. The funds would have covered the cost of three studio learning labs.
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Tomkow also sought funding for IT and cybersecurity improvements at the Peace River Center, a Bartow-based nonprofit focused on supporting behavioral health. According to her request, the IT system endured significant downtime due to infrastructure vulnerabilities and spam.
Sam Killebrew of R-Winter Haven requested $500,000 for storm drainage upgrades and shoreline stabilization at Frostproof’s Lake Clinch. Outdated stormwater drainage systems can cause erosion along the shores of the lake, causing sediment to flow into the lake and degrade water quality.
Residents last week reported erosion on the eastern side of Lake Clinch caused by Hurricane Ian. Local residents reported that about 50 homes lost power as the erosion damaged utility poles.
Burton requested $450,000 for the program, which is based at Lakeland Linder International Airport in Lakeland. The funding was intended to help develop a long-term strategic plan for the program, her request said.
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The $457,500 grant to Southeastern University’s Pathways School of Excellence provided a home on campus where students could learn skills and apply them in real-world settings, the school said. said last month. Pathways is a middle school and high school program for students with special needs.
Republican lawmakers have proposed nearly 200 of the 238 allocations approved, the Florida news service reported. Republicans have a majority in both houses.
Florida’s legislature passed a $112.1 billion budget this year with an infusion of federal relief money. DeSantis cut his $3.1 billion through item vetoes.
Gary White can be reached at email@example.com or 863-802-7518. Follow us on Twitter @garywhite13.