Hastings residents, about 440 registered voters, will decide in November whether they will maintain their status as a chartered municipality or become another part of unincorporated St Johns County. However, one of the big factors, the cost of water from the county utility department, is still to be determined.
County spokesman Michael Ryan tells Historic City News local reporters that before they vote on November 7, 2017, residents will know what their water rates will be under county control.
“The cost of taking over Hastings could mean, for the county, pulling from reserves, tacking a fee onto utility rates or implementing a special taxing district,” Ryan said in published reports of this week’s meeting of the Hastings Town Council, where commissioners voted 3-1 to put the town charter question to a ballot.
This is a significant unknown piece of the puzzle. Although the remainder of St Johns County voters will have no say in which option the Town of Hastings will choose, all county taxpayers will have to assume the town’s liabilities; about $1 million in debt in water and sewer revenue bonds, a building and maintenance improvement loan, and debt to the Florida Department of Transportation.
Adding to concerns are statements by St. Johns County Administrator Michael Wanchick who says many people believe the town will eventually fail financially. Wanchick communicated that under county management the town millage rate would go away, and that water rates are expected to be lower than what residents are paying now — but, that is no guarantee.
If dissolution comes to pass, it will be the five-member Board of County Commissioners who will have control on how the county absorbs Hastings, in accordance with Florida Law. It is still not clear what county staff will present the Board for consideration at their meeting September 5th.
October 10, 2017 will be the last day to register to vote in the Hastings election, according to St Johns County Supervisor of Elections, Vicky Oakes. For the dissolution issue to pass in November, a majority of votes cast is required.