By DAVID L. SNELLING Special to South Florida Times

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Affordable housing, public safety, job creation and an upgrade in transportation became the cornerstones at a Broward County meeting as political leaders hammered out a new five-year strategic plan to address the county’s most pressing issues for its 1.9 million residents.

Residents expressed they also want to hold the government accountable for more economic and social opportunities and tackle the 911 issue that has left hundreds of emergencies unanswered due to a shortage of call center operators.

County commissioners adopted a $6.9 billion budget for fiscal year 2023 to address residents’ top priorities including the affordable housing issue.

Florida has been struggling with the housing crisis and state officials provided some relief when Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law $711 million earmarked to boost affordable developments using tax breaks and to increase funding for existing programs, including extending eligibility to first responders and military veterans for first-time home buyers.

But Vice Mayor Nan Rich, who has made affordable housing a priority since being elected to the commission in 2016, said the new law and county efforts to keep people from being homeless are just the tip of the iceberg.

"While much remains to be done, much has already been done by this commission," she said. "Affordable housing is not just an economic issue, it is a moral issue, at the end of the day, and it is the responsibility of policymakers, employers,

government and nonprofit organizations to find solutions for ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) families. Together we can all make a difference."

Commissioner Steve Geller said he supports building affordable housing amid transit-oriented development along arterial roadways to give residents easier access to work and help avoid traffic gridlock.

"The demand for affordable housing exceeds supply," said Steve Geller.

Mayor Lamar Fisher said the county’s effort is a step ahead of other municipal governments’. Later this year, Broward will complete a 10-Year affordable housing master plan to mitigate the crunch, he said.

"I applaud the county’s efforts in recent years with the creation of the Affordable

Housing Trust Fund and making land use changes to increase our housing affordability supply," he said.

Public safety, Commissioner Mark Bogen reiterated his commitment to ensuring that 911 operations meet the service level requirements.

Last year, a lot of emergency calls went unanswered due to the scarcity of call center operators, as the Broward Sheriff’s Office struggled to fill 36 vacant positions because there wasn’t enough money budgeted to compete with other salaries.

Following months of tension and a missed deadline to get new deal done, Broward announced it signed a new contract with Sheriff Gregory Tony to allow his agency to handle 911 services through 2026.

Previously, the county agreed to a one-year extension while seeking another agency for the emergency call center but got assurance from Tony that his staff is in place for the 911 dispatch services to keep the partnership from dissolving.

"We have a contract with requirements that are not being met," Bogen said.


Bogen also asked for continued support of pilot health care programs, including free mammograms for income-eligible residents, and a lifesaving cardiology screening using technologically advanced heart scanning equipment.

"These programs save lives," said Bogen.

For economic development opportunities, Geller cited the newly created Film Commission, Broward County’s Apprenticeship and Marine Research programs for leading the way for providing good paying jobs and hiring from the county.

Commissioner Tim Ryan, who is chair of the CareerSource Broward Workforce Development Council of Elected Officials, said the need for high-paying jobs lies within vocational schools and Broward County’s Apprenticeship Program as training grounds for technical jobs in areas such as aviation.

For the expansion of cultural programs, Commissioner Roberto McKinzie, one of two African American commissioners, said he’s advocating for the county’s robust offering of cultural programs "on the road."

McKinzie agreed with Geller that the expansion of cultural programs provides economic benefits from tourism and luring companies.

Commissioner Beam Furr addressed environmental concerns relating to the management of solid waste and garbage, noting that landfills are the second biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution in a community.

"We have one Waste to Energy Plant that is nearly 30 years old. We need modernization and redundancy, and we need it quickly," said Furr.

Commissioner Hazelle Rogers, who’s also Black, focused her priorities on resiliency, "with checks and balances to chart our progress."

She also encouraged continued support for the Racial Equity Task Force and the Criminal Justice Review Board. "I want to make sure we treat all residents in our county fairly," said Rogers.

Fisher expressed his priority of timing when it comes to transportation.

"There are many funding opportunities available now that can assist the County in moving forward on some of these projects like the Coastal Link and light rail, but time is of the essence, and we have to be prepared to apply for these grant opportunities," he said.