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West Orange Times & Observer Friday, Jun. 17, 2022 1 month ago

Orange County mayor delivers 2022 State of the County

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Jerry L. Demings highlighted the accomplishments and discussed the future of the county on Friday, June 10, at the Orange County Convention Center.
by: Annabelle Sikes Staff Writer

Orange County Mayor Jerry L. Demings gave the State of the County address Friday, June 10, from the Linda Chapin Theatre at the Orange County Convention Center.

In his fourth annual address, the mayor highlighted the accomplishments and discussed the future of the county through this year’s theme — “Investing Boldly and Going Where We’ve Never Gone Before.”

Topics ranged from investments and achievements in tourism, small business and entrepreneurs, workforce training, affordable housing, transportation, preservation of the environment, public safety, social and behavioral health issues, and entertainment and culture. 

Demings said Orange County’s future is bright. 

“We will continue to embrace diversity because everyone deserves the right to be valued and respected,” he said.  “We continue to fight for affordable housing because everyone deserves a safe place to live. We will continue to embrace collaboration because there is power in people and partnerships. We will continue to lift up local businesses because our true economic strength lies within them.”

TOURISM 

The county’s tourism industry broke another record by collecting $38.5 million in tourist development taxes in March 2022, shattering the previous record of $31.2 million collected in March 2019. In addition, last year Orlando welcomed 59.3 million visitors. 

The mayor credited the record to major capital investments by the area’s world-class theme parks and their multi-billion dollar expansion projects. 

SMALL BUSINESS AND WORKFORCE TRAINING

In October of last year, the Orange County Board of County Commissioners approved $1.6 million in programming as a catalyst for industry diversification and small business training.  

Cenfluence, a Central Florida cluster initiative, established a global network to expand economic opportunities in the area while also connecting small businesses and entrepreneurs with tools for success. 

Demings also boasted on the county’s investment of federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act back into the workforce as employers across the nation have struggled to hire workers. 

The mayor noted the impact of CareerSource Central Florida as well as various community partnerships with local schools and businesses. 

AFFORDABLE HOUSING

As the economy continues to grow in Orange County, so does its population. 

Based on the latest 2020 census data, the county’s population increased by 25% between 2010 and 2020 to 1.43 million residents. By December, the numbers are expected to increase to 1.5 million. 

Given the new data, the Advisory Committee on Redistricting recommended new commission district boundaries to meet the needs of representation. The County Commission approved the new map in February.

In addition, the County Commission held a conversation on the county’s affordable-housing crisis last week. The board plans to host a special work session later this month to discuss solutions. 

Demings said the Housing For All trust fund has invested $33 million in public-private partnerships and provided about $25 million in federal funds to assist more than 4,000 residents with emergency rental assistance. 

 “The time to act is now,” Demings said. 

TRANSPORTATION 

The Transportation Sales Tax Referendum is set to be on the November ballot. 

The Penny Sales Tax is expected to raise $600 million annually with more than half paid by tourists. 

If passed, the mayor said east-west connectivity would vastly improve and allow the county to build a true multi-modal transit system, with 45% of the money generated by the tax going to transit, starting with LYNX. 

In addition, Demings said 45% of the tax would be used to upgrade major road intersections, improve existing roadways and repave older roads, as well as address bicycle- and pedestrian-safety issues. 

Last week, the federal government also announced the awarding of a $15.8 million matching grant to explore the viability of a regional public and private partnership with Brightline for an intercity passenger rail connection between Orlando and Tampa. 

ENVIRONMENTAL PRESERVATION 

Last year, Orange County committed $100 million to purchase 23,000 acres under a program called Green Place. The properties give residents places to 

enjoy the natural environment while also helping to improve its quality. 

The Vision 2050 planning is moving forward, with focuses on environmental preservation, community character, transportation needs, diverse housing opportunities and public spaces as guiding principles for future development. 

One of the initiatives underway is in West Orange County, where District 1 Commissioner Nicole Wilson is working on the Horizon West Regional Park, an upcoming 215-acre park with bike and pedestrian trails, a playground, picnic pavilions, restrooms, parking, and more. Construction is set to begin later this year. 

PUBLIC SAFETY

Demings said funding public safety is a priority and includes the construction of a new public safety communications tower, new fire stations and a new sheriff’s sector building in West Orange. 

The corrections department also is focusing its efforts on addressing the opioid pandemic, opening a fully licensed satellite clinic to treat incarcerated individuals with opioid addictions, the first of its kind in the state. 

Corrections also recently launched a mental-health program called “New Start,” designed to lead inmates from hardship to healing by providing medication, management education, support and guidance. 

The Behavioral Response Unit Co-Responder Model, another new program, also provides assistance by combining trained clinicians with deputies to respond to calls involving those who are experiencing a mental health crisis. 

SOCIAL AND BEHAVIORAL HEALTH

Last year, more than 200 community stakeholders and mental-health providers participated in a gap analysis study in services for mental and behavioral health. 

The mayor said he is confident the community can make a difference based on the recommendations from the study, as well as recommendations from the Citizen’s Safety Task Force on preventing and reducing violent crimes and gun violence. 

ENTERTAINMENT AND CULTURE 

Demings said 2022 was a banner year for sporting events and the progress will continue in the upcoming years. 

The mayor said he is hopeful Orlando will be the site for the 2026 FIFA World Cup. 

Ground broke recently for a new nature and conservation life exhibit at the Orlando Science Center, set to open in late 2023. 

In addition, Demings said the county is continuing to work on special events that showcase the broad array of cultures from across the world including events for MLK, veterans and LGBTQ+. 

“We have the ability to act now as we prepare for the future,” Demings said. “If not now, then when? If not us, then who?”

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Annabelle Sikes is a staff writer at the West Orange Times & Observer, Southwest Orange Observer and OrangeObserver.com. She graduated in May 2021 from the University of Central Florida with a bachelor's degree in journalism and a minor in sociology.  Her past...

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