TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Gov. Ron DeSantis announced almost $9 million in grant awards for Gadsden County to assist in infrastructure and facility improvements while speaking at Havana Magnet School.

DeSantis said he’d be making a big announcement, and signage at the event read “Infrastructure Improvements,” before introducing a few of the gathered Havana community leaders and state lawmakers.

“We have been very supportive of our rural communities since I’ve become governor,” DeSantis said. “Part of it is I think we do some investments, it goes a lot further in some of the rural areas than some of the urban areas. That’s just the reality of it. If you’re talking about infrastructure, you’re talking about job training, you’re talking about these key things, if the state can go in and help, particularly with some of these fiscally constrained communities, that can make a huge huge impact.”

DeSantis said, compared to what he knew of previous governors, he was the only one who had held public funding events in all 67 of Florida’s counties. Before talking about the purpose of the day’s announcement, the governor addressed gas price cost increases.

“The gas prices are going up dramatically, and I just have to disagree with the president saying that this is somehow an incredible opportunity, to have this transition,” DeSantis said. “The fact of that matter is, this is really punishing a lot of people at the pump, it’s very difficult to afford, what are you going to do? Just not go to work all of a sudden?”

The governor said he believed the gas prices would be going up even more as we approach Memorial Day, and that “people were stuck” having to pay the cost. He predicted gas nationally would be over $5 per gallon for unleaded gasoline, and that the coming gas tax holiday would help. He called it a significant cost for consumers.

“It’s not just the people getting it at the pump,” DeSantis said about cost increases. “It goes into every business, in terms of their energy cost, and it helps drive up the price of everything that people consumer. I mean the grocery bills have gone through the roof, and there’s different things for that but energy’s a big part of that. Fertilizer cost, everything’s doing it.”

He said that Florida’s unemployment rate was “far below the national average” and that there were more job openings than people to fill them in the state, but that despite higher wages, inflation was making residents “lose ground” on how much money they have versus how they spend due to increased costs of utilities and products. The governor said some legislation that had passed would assist, and that he was still trimming down the budget. DeSantis said gas prices were a concern.

“I think these gas prices are a big big problem, I hope they will reevaluate that, and not fuel that as an incredible thing,” DeSantis said. “The fact of the matter is, right now at this time, you can’t just run an economy on solar and wind. We’ve done a lot on solar in Florida, we’ve done a lot on electric vehicles.”

The governor said the state had put effort into putting charging stations on the Florida Turnpike, and that he was fine with that, but that you can’t “do that at the exclusion of making sure people have access to affordable energy,” and said the country needed to regain its energy independence.

“We’re here today to because I think rural communities really matter in the state of Florida,” DeSantis said. “I think we have a tremendous potential in rural communities, obviously in North Florida, but even if you go to the heartland of Florida, and I think people have a great potential.”

DeSantis referenced the Freddie Figgers, who grew up near Lake Okeechobee, as proof of growing up in a more rural community before rising and succeeding and becoming a public leader.

“Everybody counts, everybody has god given ability, and we just have to do everything we can so people can get the most out of this,” DeSantis said. “You know, he was abandoned as a baby, in Gadsden County, and if you would have said ‘what are the chances that he would have been successful?’ Most people would have the under on that. That’s just the reality of the situation. But he had a gift, he was taken in by Nathan and Betty May, adopted him when he was two-days-old, and he was raised here in Gadsden County. But he had a gift for technology and electronics, and he’ll talk to you about what he did, but he knew the GPS, he was helping with the dementia and putting on the shoes, and was just innovating all of these things. He was somebody who himself was a telecom operator, he was a business owner as a teenager, and he’s done huge in terms of business success, and he’s done so well and I think the story’s so inspirational that they’re going to make a movie about him.”

DeSantis said the rights to his life story had been optioned and a movie was “going to come down the pipe.” Praising the Secretary, DeSantis said Davis had a gift and was able to turn it into a career and put people to work, and lift them up while doing philanthropy.

“Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t succeed, it’s not always easy, there’s curveballs,” DeSantis said. “But I think seeing someone like Freddy shows you have an opportunity to do great things even against very long odds.”

DeSantis then said the state would be awarding “nearly $9 million” in grant awards to Gadsden County communities for infrastructure and improved community facilities.

The funding was split between multiple projects.

“So we’re doing millions of dollars for the city of Chattahoochee to rehabilitate a former school building into a senior center,” DeSantis said. “Millions to expand the city of Gretna’s community center, $1.7 million to Gadsden County to rehabilitate and improve a multi-use county-owned facility. $600,000 for Midway to construct an education center with five station shooting stand, automated clay throwing equipment and small bore rifle range. Wow! That’s great. $500,000 for the city of Gretna to support road and utility improvement for the construction of a new facility that will create jobs and have an economic impact of almost $15 million. And almost $25,000 to Quincy to replace a bypass pump and prevent future wastewater backflow.”

DeSantis also said there would be “a huge amount of money” for the state’s rural infrastructure fund, and encouraged county leaders to apply for funds. He said the fund showed the state’s commitment to helping rural counties across Florida.

Additionally, he praised the impacts of the Governor’s Job Growth Grant Fund, pointing to how it was assisting in handling supply chain issues by investing in truck driver education and certifications to expand the drive workforce. He said the fund had also been used to expand industrial needs across the state.

“There’s a lot of great opportunities here, but at the end of the day, we’re really proud of our rural communities in Florida, we’re going to continue to offer support,” DeSantis said, before mentioning the state’s record-level revenue coming in each month and highlighting the state’s budget surplus. He said the surplus could potentially hit $21 billion and promised that rural Florida would not be overlooked.

Figgers spoke briefly and praised the governor’s efforts to improve job growth and opportunity in the state, before Sec. Eagle made comments on not leaving rural communities in Florida behind. Eagle said the funding efforts proved the governor’s commitment to development. State leaders also said there was funding for broadband expansion to rural areas too, including in more developed counties that had rural pockets.

The governor also mentioned his approval of a budget line-item focused on improving salaries for rural sheriffs, then presented the check award to Gadsden County for the day’s announcement, before a short question and answer session to close the event. During the Q&A, DeSantis said the property insurance special session of the legislature would do what it needed to provide reforms for the current crisis, but said inflation was also a primary concern, especially with how it has affected material costs for building homes.

“I think it’s also important to let people know that we have the worst inflation we’ve had in four decades,” DeSantis said. “So the idea that people are going to see radical reductions in bills based on what we’re doing, that is not something, if anyone is promising you that, just the inflation alone, the amount that it costs to build homes now, if you look for what it was just two years ago, look at all of the materials that go into it, some of the materials have gone up 100%, in two years, so that obviously factors in when you’re talking about insurance coverage, potentially replacing a roof or things like that.”

Still, the governor said the reforms were positive and that residents would be able to access some programs that may allow lower rate payments, but “more importantly” some items could help avoid damage, and referenced tax packages coming from recent legislation in 2022.

According to a release from the governor’s office after the event, the funding will be split between the following projects.

  • Gadsden County ($1,777,469) – to rehabilitate, improve, and furnish an existing county-owned facility for public use.
  • City of Gretna ($504,100) – to support road and utility improvements in preparation for the construction of a new facility that will create 14 jobs and an estimated $14.5 million capital investment in the City of Gretna.
  • City of Chattahoochee ($3,789,000) – to rehabilitate an existing former school building for use as a new senior center.
  • City of Gretna ($2,253,500) – to expand the city’s community center to allow for the provision of public health services.
  • City of Midway ($600,000) – to construct an education center with ADA compliant bathrooms, 5-station shooting stand, automated clay throwing equipment, and a 5-station small-bore rifle range.