Through it all, I am immensely proud of this organization and the hard work and dedication our employees have put in to continue improving this great county of ours. With the pandemic creating some unique challenges to overcome, I believe we have come through to the other side armed with more knowledge and new techniques that will benefit Marion County for years to come.
Let’s take a look at what Marion County accomplished in 2021.
Penny Sales Tax/Road Projects
The Penny Sales Tax has been a massive success for Marion County, and citizens voted to renew the tax on the November 2020 ballot, meaning revenues from the tax will continue to return to the county through Dec. 31, 2024.
The Penny Sales Tax has provided a wealth of benefits to the county, including new fire trucks and ambulances, improvements to the county jail, updates to animal shelters, and more. Road projects also are a direct result of the Penny Sales Tax, and along with 75 miles of new or improved roadway in Marion County, there are 24 more road projects planned through 2024 thanks to the tax.
Speaking of road projects, perhaps none is currently bigger than the update to the SW/NW 80th Avenue corridor, where the plan is to widen the road from its current two lanes to four lanes with a median. With the World Equestrian Center, On Top of The World, and the new Calesa Township all sharing this corridor, traffic flow is expected to steadily increase on 80th Avenue, and widening the road will help manage traffic as the area continues to grow.
Updates to NW 49th Street also will allow more traffic in the area to connect with Interstate 75, where a new interchange is being constructed as well.
Marion County was allotted nearly $64 million through the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act last year, providing reimbursements for specific expenditures related to COVID-19. These funds were put to work immediately, providing reimbursement to private businesses, nonprofits and small businesses for COVID-related expenditures. The money also helped fund emergency services and public safety for first responders, as well as staff at the Marion County Jail.
The American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, will help address the impact of and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and also provided funding for opportunities needed to prepare for any such events in the future. Marion County received $71 million through ARPA, and those funds went to water and sewer projects, the Broadband Feasibility Analysis Study and other initiatives around the county, including assistance to not-for-profit organizations.
Lastly, Marion County fully disbursed funds we received from the Emergency Rental Assistance (ERA) program, and United Way handled applications and disbursement of the county’s $9.7 million in funding. Through the ERA program, 1,842 applications were funded, and the second phase of the ERA program was approved in December.
Litter Task Force
Keeping Marion County beautiful is a priority not only for us but for generations in the years and decades to come. The Litter Task Force was implemented this year to ensure we meet that goal.
The Litter Task Force’s focus is on litter prevention, education, training, and community outreach and action. While the task force is still in the planning and prep phase, I am very excited to see what this initiative accomplishes in the months and years to come. You can follow along with our progress at: marionfl.org/littertf.
On Thursday, Oct. 7, Marion County presented our legislative priorities to the state. Here are some of the appropriation requests we presented:
- Ninth State Veterans’ Nursing Home – Following funding in 2019 to find a site for the nursing home, an ideal site has been identified and the design and construction planning should begin upon approval from the state.
- Dunnellon Trail – Multi-modal improvements along the trail that will connect trail and river users to businesses in Dunnellon.
- Ocklawaha Groves – Acquisition of this land, which connects to Carney Island Conservations and Recreation Area, would help restore property to a healthy ecosystem and allow for more recreational opportunities.
- Lowell Area Municipal Drinking Water – Funding here would allow for the design and construction of a potable water system in the Lowell community, providing clean drinking water to residents.
Other statewide legislative priorities include modification of the Florida Building Code, revision to Sec. 180.02 F.S. that provides for county consent if a municipality is to provide services within a county service area, support for increasing the statewide 911 fee to $0.80, and tax reforms for transportation and discretionary sales tax.
Marion County Employees Give Back
I am continually impressed with the generosity of our Marion County employees. At multiple events this year, our employees gave back to the community we live in.
At Jamboree Day in October, we raised more than $10,000 to benefit United Way, the American Heart Walk and the March of Dimes. This Christmas, we helped 90 children have a Merry Christmas through donations to the Salvation Army’s Giving Tree program. And finally, at our annual Bring The Harvest Home event throughout November, Marion County employees donated more than 11,000 pounds of the nearly 21,000 pounds donated to the food drive, benefitting the Salvation Army, Brother’s Keeper and Interfaith Emergency Services.
Again, 2021 was a year to remember for Marion County. The new policies and programs we are adopting now will continue to define our great county for years to come. To our citizens without whom this county would not be what it is today, I say thank you and I look forward to continuing to represent Marion County with the same respect and dedication you have shown me. Here’s to another great year in 2022!