Rick Fernandez and Vince Long Tool Around Town Talking About Infrastructure
Administrators in a Car Getting Coffee
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Flick on a light switch. Take a shower. Drop the kids off at school. Drive to the grocery store. Stroll around Lake Ella. Flush the toilet. Catch a plane.
While the word “infrastructure” isn’t on the tip of most people’s tongues, these fundamental facilities and systems are the underpinnings of modern society. Roads, sewers, water pipes, schools, government buildings, parks, sidewalks, electric lines … and the list goes on. Many are unseen, literally underground, while others are so ubiquitous we don’t even give them a second thought — until the lights go out, the toilet backs up, a school is too overcrowded for your child to get in or a favorite road is closed for reconstruction.
Infrastructure provides the underpinnings for neighborhoods of all sorts from the eclectic — think Gaines Street — to residential, commercial and industrial environs while exerting a profound influence on communities’ futures.
Two of the people paid to think about such things — so you don’t have to — are County Administrator Vince Long and City Manager Rick Fernandez. Both were born in New York City and each has been working in local government for more than 20 years. They spent a rainy morning in Fernandez’s SUV driving a reporter around, pointing out projects of interest while keeping up a running commentary about the inner workings of infrastructure.
By way of background, much of the money to fund infrastructure is included in the annual Leon County and City of Tallahassee budgets — the city’s power plants, wastewater treatment facilities, road repairs and such.
In 1989, voters approved an additional one-cent sales tax (on top of the 6 percent assessed by the state and a half percent for schools) in supplemental money for transportation projects — most notably the expansion of Capital Circle Northeast — and law enforcement facility improvements.
Ten years later, voters approved an extension of the penny sales tax through 2019 for infrastructure relating to transportation, storm water and flood control, and greenspace acquisition and parks. And in 2014, voters extended the penny tax for another 20 years, through 2039. It’s often called “Blueprint” money, named for the city/county organization that oversees its distribution.
Most other Florida counties assess this penny tax, but how the millions in Blueprint money generated over the years are parceled out is unique to our hometown and a point of pride for the area’s top administrators.