Community members had the rare opportunity to raise concerns with three different St. Johns County officials at a town hall held in Nocatee on Wednesday, May 15.
Commissioner Jeremiah Blocker of District 4, County Administrator Michael Wanchick and Sheriff David Shoar attended the event at Crosswater Hall to present on current topics and answer questions to a packed house of almost 200 residents.
Notable topics included growing pains associated with the area’s tremendous population growth, golf cart regulation, county budget issues and new facilities.
Blocker pointed out that St. Johns County is facing an increased demand in many basic services it provides, including fire rescue, roads, parks and libraries. He stressed that there is no way to curb the influx of people moving to the area, so accounting for the demand is something the county is tasked with handling.
In addition, this growth isn’t limited to residential increases, Blocker said, but non-residential developments such as the new PGA TOUR expansion for its headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach and Northrop Grumman’s Center of Excellence. According to the U.S Census Bureau, St. Johns County’s population was at 254,261 in 2018, which was over 10,000 more than it was the previous year.
A few questions were raised by Nocatee residents about adding a library to their own community. Blocker said the board recently passed a vote in favor of opening a process for building the facility in the location with the intention of it being a “public and private partnership.” He also mentioned that a developer may be willing to donate land to the county for the library.
“We are primed,” Blocker said. “The residents want it. We in the county want it as well but going forward having limited dollars, (we feel that) having a strategic partnership with a public and private (partnership) is the way to go.”
The issue of “limited dollars” has been raised often, particularly by County Administrator Michael Wanchick, who spoke to the concern at the town hall meeting.
“The question is simply this, what form of government do you want from St. Johns County?” Wanchick asked. “Is it more important to you to keep taxes and fees low if it means diminishing our quality of life? Or is there some level of revenue increase that is acceptable to the community? Because it’s your community. If it means maintaining and enhancing our quality of life … I ask that question because the needs of the community far outweigh the financial resources we have.”
Population growth has also led to an influx of golf carts, especially in the Nocatee area. Many residents were concerned about safety issues because of the extra traffic.
Sheriff Shoar said he was also concerned with the issue, particularly since a few recent accidents involving golf carts have resulted in life-threating injuries.
“We are in the process of rolling out a pretty robust campaign about golf carts,” Shoar said. “In our profession we believe if its predictable, its preventable. …You're going to see it on TV and on our social media. In case someone gets hurt on these golf carts we are going to be smart about how we deal with that.”
In addition, Shoar mentioned that he was planning on working out a few ordinances tailored to the issue with the county commissioners. With that in mind, he stated later in the evening that he is an “independent entity of the board” and that although commissioners fund public safety, “historically the cooperation and collaboration (between them) has been remarkable.”
Although he applauds Blocker, Commissioner Paul Waldron of District 3 and Commissioner Henry Dean of District 5 for their support, he said other commissioners on the board are having issues collaborating.
“I won’t go into it tonight because we want to keep it positive, but it’s my considered opinion that I’ve got a couple of county commissioners that are trying to undermine public safety,” Shoar said. “That’s (District 1 Commissioner) Jimmy Johns and Commissioner Jeb Smith (of District 2). I’m going to deal with that because I’m an elected official and I’ve dealt with people like that before. I will tell you historically, we have never gotten along.”