Jackson County Commissioners on Tuesday, June 23 authorized GP Strategies to start building applications to access some of the roughly $150 million in Community Development Block grant funds already earmarked for entities here in their Hurricane Michael recovery efforts.

There’s a competitive element to the funding opportunity — the county must vie for a share, as can the school board, Chipola College, and all the municipalities here. But in one big project, the county government is hoping to set aside rivalry in favor of the power that can come from cooperation and partnership with those parties.

The Jackson County Commission has made countywide broadband development its top priority in that process, and is reaching out to others, like the school board, the municipalities here and other entities entitled to a share of the money, in hopes that they can potentially develop a joint broadband funding application to successfully tap into the allocation for that technology-expanding infrastructure.

Jackson County Administrator Wilanne Daniels explained the strategy.

“The logic here is that broadband is a unifying need for every last person, business, entity, household and student. There’s nothing that impacts all of us more than the need for broadband. It’s kind of like electricity when it first came in as an asset.

“What if the answer back then had been, ‘We’ll take it to municipalities but not out to rural areas’?” Daniels mused.

“We’re looking for opportunities to ensure that this is available countywide. We will probably need to work together to make that happen, to show the justification and need. It will be the determining factor as to how successful Jackson County is as a whole, whether that’s in bringing business here, making remote working possible at a minute’s notice, and when we’re looking to ensure the level and quality of education our children receive. And entertainment is being built around how good your broadband is — that’s a quality of life issue, too.”

The five other priorities include the potential construction of a government administration building that could house, not just Jackson County’s many and now-spread offices, but most of constitution officers now housed in the Jackson County Courthouse.

Except for the clerk of court, whose offices must stay there, all the constitutionals, like the property appraiser and tax collector, have expressed interest in being centrally located with the county in a new facility that the CDBG-Disaster Recovery funds could help build. The supervisor of elections, now housed in a separate building near the courthouse, has also expressed interest in a centralized location.

“They’re all excited about the idea of being together,” Daniels said. “We’ve built good relationships and we have an opportunity to make a service location more convenient for the public — one stop to achieve so many things.”

The other four top priorities for CDBG-DR funding are centered on what it would take to outfit the Endeavor property overall so that it can become a hub of economic and cultural growth. County sources believe that, because Endeavor is located off Penn Avenue in an area recognized as low-to-moderate income, it will have a good chance for funding since benefiting such areas is identified a priority goal set out in the CDBG-DR program.

Utilities, roads, a museum complex and an events center are all needed, Daniels said, in order to make it a vital new asset with potential to improve the quality of life here in numerous ways.

GP Strategies has many more ideas on the table as possible targets of CDBG-DR funding, but prioritizing these six gives the consultant a place to start in preparing applications for a share of the money.

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