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Food Deserts, Bus Stops, and Thoughts On DeSantis: Village Square Town Hall Roundup

Workers and volunteers help sort and stock a Tallahassee food bank.
Margie Menzel

Leon County Commissioners propose solutions for combating food deserts, address unsheltered bus stops, and rank Governor Ron Desantis’ performance in this round up of 2019’s Village Square Town Hall.

To Subsidize or Incentivize?

While most commissioners agree that poverty is a significant issue in the area, they don’t see eye to eye on how to solve the problem. City Commissioner Jeremy Matlow says it’s unacceptable to have food deserts and the city should subsidize grocery stores.

“There’s a lot of investments this city makes that never supply a return on investment, when we look at roads. I think we need to not be afraid to explore opening a community-owned grocery store, helping a co-op get established, because making money shouldn’t be the end goal, making sure people have access to food has to be the end goal,” Matlow says.

But County Commissioner Kristian Dozier disagrees, saying she prefers to incentivize stores instead of subsidizing them, she points to the closure of the Winn-Dixie off Paul Russel Road as an example that sometimes it’s not about the money.

“No one would want to shop there. It just wasn’t maintained well. It didn’t look like they had any interest being in the community where they were. The Piggy-Wiggly is really nice so I do think that is proving that we can sustain grocery stores,” says Dozier. 

Incentivizing businesses can sometimes mean giving tax breaks for a limited amount of time whereas subsidizing asks the city to pay the businesses expenses long-term. The City commission is helping Second Harvest of the Big Bend collect food, but there are no programs in place to address food deserts.

Can't Beat the Heat at the Bus Stop

Credit Kate Payne via WFSU
Many people depend on buses to get around town.

Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey says the city is looking into a new mass transit system, a Star Metro Super Stop that will be off of Meridian Road. Dailey points to uncovered city bus stops as a sign that the infrastructure needs to be upgraded.

“If we are going to encourage people to take mass transit, the routes need to be as efficient as possible and we should take a hard look at our route system. But when it’s August and it’s either 103 degrees and there’s no cover, who wants to ride the bus? If it’s raining sideways, who wants to ride the bus? You have to provide appropriate shelter,” says Dailey.

DeSantis Gets High Marks

Ron DeSantis speaking at the podium.
Credit Wilfredo Lee / AP
Governor DeSantis' decisions surprise the commission.

County Commissioner Rick Minor says DeSantis’ ‘build the wall’ commercial made him unsure at first but now Minor says he’s optimistic about the new governor’s decision-making. Yet Commissioners Jimbo Jackson and Dianne Williams-Cox remain skeptical. When asked what Commissioner Williams-Cox thought about the governor, she said:

“I’ll let you know when I meet him.”

The Commissioners ranked the governor’s performance from 6.2 to 7.75 on a scale of 10.

Robbie Gaffney graduated from Florida State University with degrees in Digital Media Production and Creative Writing. Before working at WFSU, they recorded FSU’s basketball and baseball games for Seminole Productions as well as interned for the PBS Station in Largo, Florida. Robbie loves playing video games such as Shadow of the Colossus, Animal Crossing, and Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. Their other hobbies include sleeping and watching anime.