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REGIONAL PLANNING COUNCILS ADVANCE POLICY PRIORITIES

Chris Hand

January 13, 2021


At last evening’s Jacksonville City Council meeting, two Council members briefly debated the City of Jacksonville (COJ)’s annual investment in the Northeast Florida Regional Council. This followed a more robust discussion during the Council’s September 2019 consideration of the Fiscal Year 2019-2020 COJ budget.

This raises the question: What role do Florida regional planning councils (RPCs) play in key policy issues?


Even Floridians who regularly interact with city, county, state, or federal government agencies may be less familiar with regional entities authorized under Florida law. Through the Florida Regional Planning Council Act (Florida Statutes Section 186.501 et seq.), the legislature has recognized that many city and county governmental decisions have broader geographical impacts. The law empowers RPCs to help local governments “resolve their common problems, engage in areawide comprehensive and functional planning, administer certain federal and state grants-in-aid, and provide a regional focus” on issues such as economic development, environmental protection, disaster recovery, emergency preparedness, transportation, health care, and resiliency. Councils are primarily comprised of elected officials from cities, counties, and school boards within the region, with state government officials serving in an ex oficio (non-voting) capacity.

Florida currently has 10 regional planning councils: Emerald Coast (Bay, Escambia, Holmes, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, and Washington counties); Apalachee (Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Jackson, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty, and Wakulla counties); Northeast Florida (Baker, Clay, Duval, Flagler, Nassau, Putnam and St. Johns counties); North Central Florida (Alachua, Bradford, Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Lafayette, Levy, Madison, Suwannee, Taylor and Union counties); East Central Florida (Brevard, Lake, Marion, Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Sumter and Volusia counties); Central Florida (DeSoto, Hardee, Highlands, Okeechobee and Polk counties); Tampa Bay (Citrus, Hernando, Hillsborough, Manatee, Pasco and Pinellas counties); Southwest Florida (Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee and Sarasota counties); Treasure Coast (Indian River, St. Lucie, Martin, and Palm Beach counties); and South Florida (Broward, Miami-Dade, and Monroe counties).


While readers should review the RPC websites, some initiatives are especially timely. Last year, the U.S. Commerce Department awarded the South Florida RPC nearly $6 million to administer a business loan program to mitigate COVID-19 economic dislocation. The Northeast Florida Regional Council is seeking innovative solutions to advance COVID-19 economic recovery. Tampa Bay RPC researchers have been working to eliminate racial equity gaps, an effort which “could add up to 375,000 new jobs and $50 billion to the regional economy.” The Apalachee RPC is exploring hemp cultivation as a way to boost the regional agriculture sector.


The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) recently invested in RPCs. On January 8, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced awards of nearly $20 million“to develop or enhance state, regional, or local plans which will enable the State of Florida to withstand future disasters.” These awards included grants to several RPCs:


· Flood Planning: The East Central Florida RPC received $1.5 million “to develop a statewide approach to flood planning that will transfer models and planning efforts developed in coastal areas to inland areas to provide a regional framework.” This grant complements the RPC role in Resilient Brevard, a county-specific effort to anticipate and prepare for climate change.


· Resiliency: DEO awarded $700,000 to the Northeast Florida Regional Council “to develop a comprehensive regional resilience plan for 18 counties in Northeast Florida” – a region which has seen significant climate-related challenges in recent years and anticipates more in the future.

· Food Security: Feeding America estimates that 50 million Americans – including 17 million children – may experience food insecurity due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Southwest Florida RPC received $350,000 “to develop a regional food security plan across seven Southwest Florida counties.”


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