Funding for the University of North Florida’s medical nexus project moves to the state legislature. State Rep. Paul Renner says securing the $12 million request with be a “heavy lift.”
After getting approval from the Board of Governors of the State University System earlier this year, a University of North Florida plan to build a “medical nexus” in Palm Coast faces its biggest hurdle when the legislative session begins in Tallahassee Jan. 14.
The Jacksonville school, in conjunction with the city of Palm Coast, Flagler Schools and AdventHealth Palm Coast, wants to create the program, called UNF MedNEX, in Palm Coast’s Town Center. The university’s board of trustees approved the plan in June.
In the initial proposal for the project, UNF officials described the medical nexus idea as a way to “consolidate health-care disciplines, technology development, research and analytics into a collaborative hub of educational learning, development and placement of students as well as a hub of scholarly and technological advance in the healthcare fields for NE Florida and the state.”
But State Representative Paul Renner said the budgetary request for $12 million could find rough going in Tallahassee.
“It’s going to be a heavy lift,” he said in an interview with the News-Journal.
Renner said with Gov. Ron DeSantis seeking “an extra billion dollars in spending on salaries” legislators will have to work hard to fit other requests into the budget.
“That is going to put tremendous pressure on everything else in the budget in a balanced-budget state,” he said. “That makes any new spending much more challenging.”
Renner said he believes there will be support for the budget request from other legislators in the region and acknowledged that “all of Northeast Florida would benefit from this proposal.” But “whether the money is there in the amount requested remains to be seen.”
Palm Coast City Councilman Jack Howell also has concerns about the funding for the UNF project, but his questions focus more on whether the investment will be worth it for Palm Coast and Flagler County.
“Right now I am looking favorably on it because I know the mayor has been working on it,” he said. “We haven’t really talked about money yet, so I don’t know what the state is prepared to ante up for this.”
At a November workshop at Florida Gulf Coast University, UNF President David Szymanski told the Board of Governors Palm Coast had a $1.5 million line item in the city’s budget for the medical nexus project. However, city officials said there is no current appropriation for the project.
Howell said any financial commitment from the city will have to show a benefit to residents.
“I’m of the opinion that I don’t want any taxpayer money going into a project that we don’ get something back,” he said. “I want to make sure we have a solid return on any investment the city is prepared to go forward with. I don’s want to put money in a sinkhole.”