Clay County Commission takes up controversial issues

Electronic billboards, gaming machines discussed at commission meeting

CLAY COUNTY, Fla. - Two topics -- electronic billboards and electronic gaming machines -- drew a lot of controversy for some residents during Tuesday night's Clay County Commission meeting.

Proponents of the billboards said they will help drive business in Clay County, but several critics said the billboards will distract drivers and be an eye sore.

"We have billboards, yes," said Virginia Singer. "Do we need to replace them with the lights? We have them now, yes. They are stationery, but they're not constantly changing."

Billboard operator Jim Hogan said billboards are important to him.

"It's my livelihood, my job, and how I support my family," said Hogan.

One of the ideas behind the ordinance is to phase out the old billboards throughout the county. For every new electronic billboard to go up, three old ones will have to come down first.

In the end, the commission passed the ordinance and limited it to Blanding Boulevard and Wells Road. They believe those are the only areas of the county that are truly impacted. But that wasn't enough for critics of the ordinance who feel these bright signs hurt the county.

"People move to Clay County for the beauty of Clay County," said Joy Elrod. "When we put these signs up, it's going to be a detriment to the county and the progress of the small business."

The commission also tackled the controversial issue of allowing electronic gaming machines in Clay County.

Some call the gaming machines a form of gambling and don't believe veterans halls in Clay County should be allowed to have them if they are close to places like schools and churches.

Veterans groups said the machines would be critical as funding sources for their community outreach.

"All the money that goes into those machines is coming from veterans and going back into the community," said Steven Schneider, a veteran.

The machines would only be for members of the veterans groups to play, and there would be a limit of five machines for any building. However, this idea didn't sit well with many family values advocates who showed up to Tuesday's meeting. They feel these are gambling machines that hurt Clay County.

"Families move here for family atmosphere, and we really don't want to become Portersville," said Mary Lib Stevenson.

"It's going to hurt the (Veterans of Foreign Wars) and all the other vets groups, with the economy the way it is to keep our doors open," said Schneider. "Posts throughout states are struggling to fund and keep their doors open."

In the end, the commission did not approve the gaming machines even though each commissioner praised the veterans for all the community service their groups do.

Still, the decision to not allow veterans to have the gaming machines if they are too close to schools or churches didn't sit well with the vets.

"We fund a lot of money into charities," said Sid Newberg, a veteran. "Either the County Commissioner supports the vets or they don't support the vets. Well, I think you got that answer tonight."

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