CHIPLEY — State officials were in Chipley on Monday to hear local concerns and answer questions during a public hearing.
The Walton, Holmes and Washington County legislative delegation, which included Speaker Pro Tempore Marti Coley (R-Marianna) and Senate President Don Gaetz (R-Niceville), were in Washington and Holmes Counties on Monday holding hearings. Besides these two counties, each of these officials also represents other portions of counties in Northwest Florida.
“I believe this is an integral part of the process,” said Coley, who is term-limited and will serve her final year in the House of Representatives in 2014. “These meetings are a very important part of the process, where we get to hear your views and what is important to you.”
“We talk so much in the halls of Tallahassee that all we hear are our voices,” Gaetz said, “and sometimes we think we’re hearing God. It is really good to get out and hear from you.”
Two of the speakers who addressed the delegation were seeking help with state funding for their local organizations — the Washington County Public Library and Healthy Families North Florida, which has its office in Marianna.
Library Director Renae Rountree was the first speaker, and she reminded Coley and Gaetz of how important state funding is to rural libraries, including the Washington County Public Library.
“State aid benefits the public library in a variety of ways because it can be used for a variety of services, including personnel, library materials, equipment, furniture, and automation and technology,” Rountree said.
As important as state funding is for libraries, state aid has seen a 33 percent reduction since 2001, severely impacting rural library budgets, Rountree said.
“Please support us and state aid funding for libraries,” she asked Coley and Gaetz.
The state’s Division of Library and Information Services is also requesting a $500,000 grant which would fund an e-book program that would provide support to K-12 students with electronic access to non-fiction materials.
“By the year 2015, the state has said that all instructional materials for students from Kindergarten to grade 12 must be provided in an electronic or digital format,” Rountree said. “We live in an area where there are places with no internet access, or phone or cell phone access. The library provides that service for a great number of our county residents.”
Rountree said that library usage has steadily increased over the past decade. “It seems like the worse the economy gets, the more people come to the library.”
Rountree said 35,000 people came through the library’s doors last year, and the library processed more than 60,000 transactions.
Tamara Hampton, a family support worker supervisor for Healthy Families North Florida, also addressed the delegation seeking continued support of her organization’s programs, which provide services to prevent child abuse and neglect.
“We have a 90 percent reduction rate in child abuse and neglect through our programs,” Hampton said.
Healthy Families Florida is a nationally accredited home visiting program for expectant parents and parents of newborns experiencing stressful life situations, according to the website, healthyfamiliesfla.org. The program improves childhood outcomes and increases family self-sufficiency by empowering parents through education and community support.
Parents voluntarily participate in Healthy Families so they can learn how to recognize and respond to their babies' changing developmental needs, use positive discipline techniques, cope with the day-to-day stress of parenting in healthy ways, and set and achieve short- and long-term goals.
Being a parent is an important and sometimes difficult job, Hampton said. Healthy Families North Florida offers tools to make the job easier, and they work to give families the support they need to reach their goals and build a bright future for their children.
“Child abuse most often happens in the first five years of a child’s life,” Hampton said. “We get in there and work with the parents to give them the encouragement and support.”
Hampton said the Healthy Families organization has seen its state budget cut by $5 million and she asked Coley and Gaetz to restore the funding for the Healthy Families North Florida.
The legislative delegation thanked the public for participating in the program.
“I view our office as a liaison between the people and state agencies,” Coley said, “so if you have problems or concerns, please come see us. We are quite successful at moving the process along.”
“We appreciate your calls, emails and visits,” Gaetz said. “The keep us connected to real people, and it is good to hear real voices, real problems. It keeps us grounded in our communities.”