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Special to the Citizen
Although it was a tough budget year in Tallahassee for the 2011 Legislative Session, small fiscally constrained counties did see some light at the end of the tunnel.
“I represent all or part of 10 small counties, of which nine are fiscally constrained. I made sure legislators knew how their decisions would affect the lives of the people in my district,” said State Rep. Leonard Bembry of Greenville (D-District 10). “There were a lot of cuts in the budget that I couldn’t support, mainly affecting education and the elderly.”
Critical programs for fiscally constrained counties were fully funded this year including revenue sharing, payment in lieu of taxes (Pilt), and pre-trial detention offset. These monies help fill the gap for struggling counties created by unfunded mandates.
Bembry serves on the Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee as ranking member and was instrumental in retaining the PILT funding. He stated, “I’m very aware of how important these dollars are to our small counties. They depend on this money every year to help defray lost ad valorem revenues due to conservation easements purchased on lands.” To qualify for this program, a county in which the Water Management District has purchased land must have a population of less than 150,000. Payments are made each year for the previous year's taxes lost by these counties.
Local libraries were saved from the chopping block by being funded at $21.3 million, an increase of $100,000 from 2010. Bembry stated, “Libraries open a new world to our children and helps them understand the importance of learning and of education. They will enjoy their educational background for a lifetime”
Also saved were the Small County Road Assistance Program (SCRAP) and Small County Outreach Program (SCOP). Both of these programs provide funding for repaving and road widening. Without the SCRAP and SCOP funds, many small counties would not be able to improve or pave roads. The Small County Solid Waste Recycling Program was maintained at $2.4 million. These monies provide essential funding for counties with populations fewer than 100,000 to implement education programs and recycling efforts.