A bill in the Florida Senate that aims to eliminate the statutory authorization for Regional Planning Councils has led to conversations on the value of the organizations throughout the state. Commissioners weighed in on the topic Monday evening.
What started out as a quick agenda item during Monday evening’s commission meeting soon evolved into a lengthy discussion on the city’s future with the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council.
Commissioners had been asked to oppose the “elimination of statutory authorization for Regional Planning Councils in the State of Florida as proposed in Senate Bill 62.” Said bill, if passed, would remove the authorization and all references to the Regional Planning Councils from the Florida Statutes. This would essentially eliminate the many services provided by the councils to the residents of Florida.
It appeared to be a simple request, but it instead sparked an in-depth conversation on the very value of the planning councils after Commissioner Mike Sparkman said he wasn’t going to support the opposition to eliminate the councils’ authorization.
“I still today believe that they should take away funding for the Regional Planning Councils,” Sparkman said. “I don’t see what advantage it is into the cities. I don’t know that we’ve hardly ever used it and I think it’s a waste of taxpayer dollars. So I would not vote to oppose the elimination of the Regional Planning Councils.”
Commissioner Bill Dodson, who has served as the representative from Plant City for 19 years, voiced his objection to that claim and said he believes the councils serve several purposes for the state.
The TBRPC provides “a forum to foster communication, coordination, and collaboration in identifying and addressing issues and needs regionally.” It brings together governments in hopes of coordinating an overarching plan for the community’s future. It was established in 1962 after representatives from St. Petersburg, Clearwater and Tampa decided it was high time there was regional coordination. It is one of 10 regional planning councils in Florida.
The council discusses items like the Future of the Region: A Strategic Regional Policy Plan for the Tampa Bay Region. It also discusses issues like water quality, environmental management, emergency preparedness planning and review of transportation plans.
TBRPC has representatives from its six counties: Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco and Pinellas. The other municipal members are from Bradenton, Clearwater, Dade City, Dunedin, Gulfport, Largo, Madeira Beach, New Port Richey, Oldsmar, Palmetto, Pinellas Park, Plant City, Safety Harbor, Seminole, South Pasadena, St. Pete Beach, St. Petersburg, Tampa, Tarpon Springs, Temple Terrace and Treasure Island. This represents two-thirds of the council’s membership. The governor appoints additional members and there are also four “ex-officio members representing the Southwest Florida Water Management District, the Florida Department of Transportation and Environmental Protection and Enterprise Florida.”
Dodson said that when Rick Scott was Governor of Florida, he removed funding from the state for the regional councils. Now they are independently funded and rely on fees from members as well as contracts for projects they are a part of to stay in operation. City Manager Bill McDaniel confirmed Plant City pays $2,000 a year to be a member of the council.
Dodson took a moment to reflect on the funding that used to be available and explained to commissioners how the budget worked currently for the councils.
“They get an equal amount of funding, as remarkable as it may seem, by contracts through the state of Florida that call upon them to do work on behalf of the state of Florida,” Dodson said. “It’s interesting that there’s no funding from the state, yet the state calls on the Regional Planning Councils to do work on their behalf.”
Sparkman agreed that Dodson was right on the work the council does, but he said he believes the organization should be privatized instead of being supported by the cities and counties, which use taxpayer dollars to participate in the councils.
“Now that we have more government, we have better government, we have more efficient government and we have more technology now in the world than we’ve ever had before, this is a redundancy and a waste of taxpayer dollars,” Sparkman said. “I would not support this.”
Bill 62 was filed on Jan. 5 and is currently in Judiciary. Mayor Rick Lott asked Dodson if the other cities and counties had supported the resolution to oppose the bill. Dodson said they had, so Lott presented a harsh reality to the commission.
If Plant City didn’t oppose Bill 62, it would be the only city thus far to do so.
Vice Mayor Nate Kilton said he believes councils and boards like these open the door to better collaboration between cities and municipalities. Connections are made that should not be taken lightly. Lott agreed and said it would be a risk to not fall in line with the other cities.
“You know, I think that this is a board that it’s really up to the state of Florida to decide whether it continues or not,” Lott said. “If the board stays intact I would hate for us to not have a seat at the table. I think that in every organization we have out there, even in some of these boards, they don’t have a huge impact in Plant City but it allows us to be able to work with our counterparts and other municipalities in other counties and build those relationships like you’re talking about, Vice Mayor. So if we do need to work on regional aspects, we have the ability to have a commonality there and a respect for one another where we can find common ground. I totally understand where you’re coming from, Commissioner Sparkman, on this, 100 percent. This is a state decision, but I find it to be a little bit uncomfortable if we voted not to at least, like all the other cities have already put their support in for this resolution, and then if it doesn’t go away we are the lone wolf that said, ‘We don’t want to be a part of this organization.’ I don’t think that puts us in a very good light.”
The commissioners agreed to support the resolution to voice their opposition to the elimination of statutory authorization for Regional Planning Councils 4-1, with Sparkman dissenting.