Better Place Plan spending divides county officials

Putnam County commissioners continued the process of crafting a budget for the county’s next fiscal year at a budget workshop Monday. 

The workshop was one of several scheduled by commissioners to arrive at a preliminary budget to present later this month. Commissioners heard requests from various departments within the county for funds and debated how to best arrive at a budget to cover necessary services and improvements before sending proposals back to staff for adjustment.

Commissioners ultimately rejected a proposal for Better Place Plan funding, advising county staff to adjust the proposals to bring expenditures in line with a commitment to spend 60% of the fund on road improvements. 

Under the initial proposal discussed Monday, about 34% of nearly $6 million in Better Place Plan, or $2 million, would have gone to dirt-to-pave road improvements.

Another $1 million of Better Place Plan funds would have been earmarked for a partial communications system upgrade for county first responders.

The entire radio upgrade project is expected to cost between $4.3 million and $5.5 million. 

Putnam County Sheriff’s Office Col. Joe Wells told 

commissioners the radio upgrades were badly needed, saying there were dead spots in the county where deputies were out of radio contact with dispatch.

Radio upgrades would also help Fire and EMS crews across the county, said Quin Romay, county Fire and EMS chief. Different organizations in the county have had difficulty coordinating efforts. 

The county was also unable to communicate efficiently with counterparts from other law enforcement agencies in neighboring counties, Wells said. 

While commissioners were sympathetic toward law enforcement and emergency officials, most balked at spending only 33% of available Better Place Plan funds on roads. 

“People voted for roads, roads, roads,” said Commissioner Larry Harvey, saying he preferred using 60% of the fund on roads, eventually increasing to 70%. 

Commissioner Terry Turner said he understood radio upgrades were a matter of safety and needed to be done but said he would prefer finding another way to pay for them without dipping in to the Better Place funds. 

“I know it’s a safety issue; I get it,” Turner said. “If you had told voters you were going to spend $5 million of the Better Place funds, not a person in this town would have voted for it.” 

Ultimately, commission members agreed the Better Place Plan funds should be closer to a 60% figure for road improvements and instructed county staff to revise the proposal and have it prepared for a future workshop. 

The Board of County Commissioners will hold another budget workshop 9 a.m. Wednesday and another session 9 a.m. July 15, both at the Putnam County Government Complex, 2509 Crill Ave. in Palatka.

Palatka Daily News

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