Fire Rescue

Included in the new jobs the county's planning on adding to the existing 2,000-plus staff were some 28 fire rescue positions, some firefighters and some EMTs and support personnel.

Polk County commissioners got their second look at next fiscal year's $2 billion budget, up some $100 million over what it normally would have been according to the county's budget guru Assistant County Manager Todd Bond.

Bond told commissioners the additional funds were from several federal sources, some earmarked for COVID-19 relief and more federal money to offset lost revenues due to the economic hit the county took when it was forced to shut down by the pandemic.

Small business assistance topped the discussions at a special work session last week, but also tucked into the new budget, County Manager Bill Beasley explained, were allocations for 55 new county workers.

Included in the new jobs the county's planning on adding to the existing 2,000-plus staff were some 28 fire rescue positions, some firefighters and some EMTs and support personnel; 11 new workers for the county's Utilities Division; 5 for the Roads and Drainage Department; 2 for Human Resources, 1 in the Communications Unit and one for the county's active Tourism and Sports Marketing agency.

Costing the most will be the 42 public safety and environmental health slots with a $3 million tab, only $366,000 to hire five people for the roads and drainage category and eight will fill slots in support services.

While Beasley added the slots to the budget, the board has yet to officially okay adding them to the county's workforce.  That may come later this month at subsequent workshops when each department chief will have to justify the need for more people to the board.

The new jobs will be paid through a variety of funding categories including the Emergency Medical Services millage, the fire fund, the utilities fund, transportation millage, the existing tourism tax and lastly from the general fund.

In addition to the look at the overall projected budget last week, the County Commission also heard from Javier Marin of the Central Florida Development Council, Yanina Rosario of USF's business college and Lakeland consultant Sylvia Blackmon Roberts.

The trio has had about $4.5 million budgeted to launch and maintain for several years, new programs to help businesses struggling to survive in the existing business climate or to help those who want to launch a new business.

The county set aside some $20 million last year to help struggling businesses stay afloat, and handed out ready cash to nearly 6,000 businesses, said Marin.  Each business, under that CARES scenario received from $2,500 to $10,000, depending on the size of the companies or the impacts that resulted from the statewide lock down.

These new funding scenarios, explained Marin, are to help those still struggling to add infrastructure and targets manufacturing, food and hospitality, technology and aviation concerns. The types of infrastructure that could qualify for this assistance include broadband connections, upgrades to electrical, water and sewer or food-grade additions.

These funds should help about 120 businesses, he added. 

Commissioners expressed some concerns that businesses would see these new initiatives as ongoing, but Beasley quashed that concern, telling the commission, this was only help for two years or so, not something they could count on long-term. 

There may be instances where businesses would have to “have skin in the game” to qualify, meaning, the business would have to cough up a portion of the amount needed for improvements before receiving any grant assistance.

In Blackmon-Roberts' bailiwick, the focus will be on minority and women-owned businesses and her group would provide guidance on how to comply with basic business requirements like licenses, certifications and financial planning, she told the board.

Rosario operates from the USF Small Business Development Center and has a cadre of consultants who have the expertise to guide businesses through all phases of successful operations, she said.  The USF share of the money would provide two full-time staffers to be posted in the county.  The SBDC, as it stands, serves 10 counties had has no on-site staff in Polk, she added.

 “This will give anyone in Polk County immediate access to not only those people assigned here, but they have access to our entire staff to find the right guidance to make their business successful and sustaining,” she said.

No formal decisions on any of the budget topics outlined at the work session were made, but were explanatory and would be seeking formal approval when the budget is finalized later in July and adopted in September.

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