82% of Hastings citizens vote to dissolve town

Potato Capital of Florida's voters support revoking town's charter

By Elizabeth Campbell - Reporter, Ethan Calloway - Anchor/reporter

HASTINGS, Fla. - Hastings voters in Tuesday's election decided by a margin of 82 percent to dissolve the town and become an unincorporated part of St. Johns County. 

Of the 165 ballots cast, 136 voted "yes" to the proposition to revoke the town's charter, according to the St. Johns County Supervisor of Elections website.

Of the more than 400 registered voters in Hastings, less than half -- only about 41 percent -- voted on the proposition. 

Voters in Hastings, which was founded in 1890, were asked to consider the proposition to revoke the town's charter due to the town's $1 million accumulated debt and the town's high water and waste treatment costs.

Dissolution of the town government will reduce residents' wastewater bills and eliminate a small additional property tax. Tuesday's historic vote will allow St. Johns County to absorb the so-called Potato Capital of Florida. The county told News4Jax it has asked the state for help alleviating the town's debt.

Yvonne Lamer, who has lived in Hastings since she was 9 years old, said she voted to dissolve the town and is hopeful things will improve.

"Maybe we'll get federal funding, maybe a grocery store. So we won't have to go 20-something miles each way to get dinner for our family," Lamer said.

For many citizens, the decision came down to money.

"The high, the really high utility bills are really high," Ann Allen said. "I have $160-$180 water bill every month, and it’s absurd. I’m hoping the dissolution will help cut some of those costs down."

But not everyone agrees. Doris Hjerling wanted to keep the town so issues could get heard at a smaller level.

"They go to one town meeting and the ball gets rolling. But now, when they need something, now, when they want something, they’re going to wind up going against many, many voices in St. Johns County and they’re going to be a small voice in a very large crowd," she said.

The town charter will be revoked on Feb. 28., and the small farm town with 644 residents will no longer be a town at all. The town and county will work together over the next couple of months to figure out how it wants to go about the dissolution.

"The county has interacted with Hastings residents on many levels, including in meetings, letters and one-on-one conversations and is working with the community to determine needs and desired service levels," St. Johns County spokeswoman Sarah Hand told News4Jax. "Once the transition is complete, Hastings residents will enjoy decreased ad valorem taxes, lower water and wastewater utility rates and additional services from St. Johns County."

Residents hope the transition goes smoothly.

"I guess just that everything goes well, I guess," said John Leathen III, who has lived in Hastings 20 years. "You know that everyone lives peacefully and everybody’s happy out here."

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