NOCATEE, Fla. – Nearly 200 people attended a state of the county meeting Wednesday evening in Nocatee to voice concerns and listen to county leaders address issues such as growth, safety and the cost of long- and short-term projects.
St. Johns County has approximately 245,000 residents and that number is expected to continue to grow as long more people continue to move here. During Wednesday night's town hall meeting, the community learned that from a financial standpoint, this growth can be both good and bad.
Nationally, St. Johns County is ranked high when quality of life, low crime rate and excellent schools are considered. Leaders who spoke at the town hall meeting said St. Johns County is where people are moving to and it's causing the county to experience a tremendous amount of growth.
But residents, such as Joe Bryant, said the growth is out of control because it’s impacting infrastructure.
“Infrastructure is the key and if you let the growth outgrow it, there’s nothing you can do. You’re always going to be catching up," he said.
County Commissioner Jeremiah Ray Blocker said growth must be managed much better, especially now that there are more construction projects throughout the county.
“We have to figure out a way to manage that growth appropriately and get the infrastructure in place so we are not getting overcrowded," Blocker said. "We don’t want to be Ft. Lauderdale. We don’t want to be South Florida.”
During the meeting, county leaders mentioned how growth is contributing to heavier traffic issues. County leaders also said that growth is also putting a financial strain on public services, such as fire and rescue, which is why Blocker is all for increasing tourism taxes to help pay for those services.
“We as taxpayers are paying for that," Blocker said. "So we have to leverage these opportunities to make sure tourists are paying for that, as well.”
Blocker said St. Johns County has one of the lowest tourism taxes in the state and he believes that raising tourism taxes will put the county in line with other counties that attract large numbers of tourists.
Even though St. Johns County has a low crime rate and is ranked high when it comes to quality of life, people who attended Wednesday's town hall meeting said personal and public safety is still a topic of concern.
Nocatee resident Bonnie Della told News4Jax about a recent incident in which a suspicious man came onto her property.
“I don’t feel safe," Della said. "He didn’t introduce himself.”
Nancy Evans said she’s concerned about the safety of people traveling on an unfinished path that runs behind her home.
“Bicyclists, golf carts, cars going up and down the road -- cars are going up and down the road at a high rate of speed all night long. It's pitch dark out there," Evans said.
Blocker also spoke about speed limits.
“One of the things we have to evaluate as we grow is speed limits. Do we have the appropriate speed limits for a particular area?" Blocker said.
St. Johns County Sheriff David Shoar said one safety concern he has deals with golf carts. Almost everywhere you look in Nocatee and Ponte Vedra, there is a golf cart being driven.
“We had three women in our county within the last six months fell off golf carts and suffer devastating injuries," Shoar said.
The sheriff said golf cart-related accidents are becoming so frequent that his office is on the verge of getting with county commissioners to look over golf cart ordinances. He’s planning a new golf cart safety campaign.
County leaders said everyone will have to work together to not only address these safety concerns, but also develop solutions to the problems.