Tuesday, June 5, was the first-ever Leon County Virtual Town Hall Meeting. Leon County Board of Commissioners Chairman Akin Akinyemi, District 4 Commissioner Bryan Desloge and County Administrator Vincent Long fielded the questions submitted online. Fourteen of the 20 questions submitted were asked and answered live during the meeting. Here is a brief summary of the questions answered Tuesday night. For more in-depth answers to these questions, visit www.LeonCountyFL.gov during the coming week.
Q1: What are some of the hurdles of strategic planning and how can people participate in government?
- The county faces shrinking resources and a simultaneous call for more services
- If you see something you like in another community, call, text, e-mail us
- If you have an issue, let us know early before it becomes critical
- Volunteer with county and apply through the Web site for county positions
Q2: Why do I see fire trucks and ambulances with their engines running, idling around town?
- According to a emergency services spokesman, the trucks have equipment that needs to be charged, and the firefighters need to have time to go into the station and stretch and do work while they’re not working on an emergency. Otherwise, they’d be cooped up in the truck for up to 12 hours. It’s a matter of having the minimum response time possible; when called to respond, they can jump into the truck and go right away. However, Chairman Akinyemi asked the department to at least consider whether they can reduce truck idling time to protect the environment and save gas.
Q3: How does Leon County conform itself to run as a business?
- Long said, compared with similar-sized counties, Leon County’s operating budget is 46 percent lower. The per-resident spending rate is also lower. Commissioner Desloge also recalled one example of cutting waste: the number of take-home cars for county employees has gone from about 50 to 1 over the past six years.
Q4: Is the county administrator’s salary too high?
- Akinyemi said he believes Long’s salary is about 20-percent lower than mean salary for county administrators. Desloge said he believes the amount of institutional knowledge lost would be too high if they were to lower the salary.
Q5: What is the Innovation Park status?
- Akinyemi said it was very difficult to get a good fit with the previous director. He said new organization was being put in place to make the transition easier for whoever becomes the next director.
Q6: Why were Northeast Park development costs estimated so high and what can community do to bring them back down?
- Commissioner Desloge said, property in District 4 is so expensive, and it’s hard to find something that’s not on a hill. It’s just in the infancy/estimate stages right now. And sometimes parents can help if they want to. He’s proud of the acquisition of the ballfield space. He said to keep in mind the estimated cost included a full build-out of the facility and field, not just the cost of acquisition.
Q7: What programs would you like to see cut?
- Akinyemi said there is no “low-hanging fruit” in the budget, after significant cuts over the past couple of years. He said at the beginning of the fiscal year, the commission looks at the deficit numbers and then ask staff to show them items that can be cut.
Q8: Now that we have minimum countywide environmental regulations, when will people expect to see building and permitting offices of city and county consolidated?
- Long said the city and county already share a building code, board of appeals, software for permitting and a physical building. No word on official consolidation.
Q9: How do we lower property taxes?
- Leon County already has a local homestead exemption of $25,000 for low-income people age 65 and up
- County has reduced millage over the past few years. Keep in mind that school districts depend entirely on property taxes for revenue, so they are unable to lower rates.
Q10: How do we reduce numbers of commissioners?
- Most counties have five commissioners, and we have 7. If citizens want fewer, then during the charter review process would be the best time to bring that up.
Q11: Is the goal to have a park or library on every corner? When is enough enough?
- Akinyemi said everything the county does is based on demand. If you want fewer libraries or parks, let the commission know.
Q12: What has the county done with job creation?
- Commissioner Desloge said he’s investigating how to use sales tax revenue toward economic development in the county. He said a state law allows 15 percent of sales tax revenue to be used for that purpose. Akinyemi said the county is partnering with the private sector to fill vacant commercial property. Also, a rain drainage system construction project should be coming soon, and there should be job opportunities there. He referred people to BigBendWorks.com.
Q13: Can Leon County become a no-kill animal shelter zone?
- Akinyemi said the county should consider doing a study at the minimum. Just in the past 2-3 months, he has seen other counties make the transition. For him, he said, it’s done out of humanity for all living things. “I think we can become a no-kill zone,” he said.
Q14: When will Amtrak service return here?
- While Akinyemi said he’s still hoping it can happen, Commissioner Desloge basically said, don’t hold your breath. Amtrak is in no position to do it financially, and the county can’t subsidize it.
Q15: What is Leon County doing to educate people about bicycle safety?
- Bike lanes are being put on all new roads. The county has also applied three times for a grant that would allow them to add bike lanes to existing roads. While that application was denied each time, a fourth application is pending. Also, Commissioner Desloge said the county has been approached by a bikeshare company to gauge interest in a program similar to Capital BikeShare in Washington, D.C.
Q16: There was a Tallahassee Democrat article about “green lanes,” or a row of plants, between bike lanes and the road. Is this something we can expect on Tennessee Street?
- That’s a city issue
Q17: Will there be public transportation to the Tallahassee Regional Airport?
- It’s being discussed.
Q18: What is status of Lake Munson clean-up and when will it be safe for use?
- Director of Public Works Tony Park said the main issue is finding funding, but efforts to clean up the lake are ongoing.
Q19: What are county/city plans for installing sidewalks on both sides of all major roads?
- Akinyemi said there’s a $300 million backlog on sidewalk construction projects, between the city and county. One issue was that local code did not require sidewalks in all new developments until recently.
- Tony Park said the priority is always finding safe routes to schools.
Q20: When will the Lake Jackson library will open?
- It’s on track to open sometime this summer.