The small Northeast Florida town of Hastings might be dissolved for financial reasons, meaning it would become part of unincorporated St. Johns County. City Commissioners there are deciding whether to put the question on the ballot.
Hastings Mayor Tom Ward has held the position for a couple decades, he thinks.
“A little over 20 years probably,” he said. “I don’t know exactly.”
About 600 people live in his town, which he describes as similar to the fictional town of Mayberry.
“Everybody knows each other,” Ward said. “We look out for each other. (It’s) a real small hometown type for atmosphere.”
The town has some different rules than St. Johns County, like it doesn’t impose impact fees for new buildings, which has resulted in a lot of growth, Ward said.
“When I moved to town there had not been a new home built in over 25 years,” Ward said.
But some people in town think dissolving the charter is in its best interest. Ward said they argue the town won’t be able to sustain itself financially if it stays independent.
“We’ve always struggled,” he said.
Commissioners have introduced an ordinance that would put the question to a public vote in November. Before the ordinance comes up for a second read next month, Ward said, they need some questions answered, like would the county share the expense of treating water and sewage?
“Then our water rates would probably decrease in monthly price,” Ward said.
Hastings has its own reverse osmosis water system.
Ward said most who don’t want the dissolution have lived in Hastings forever, and they feel heard. If the town is dissolved, local representation would be too.
“You know, you’ve got a one in 600 vote basically,” he said. “If the county were to take over, then they’re going to have a one in 2 million vote.”
He said he’s personally weighed both sides and he’s torn.
“I ask myself that regularly and I don’t have a dead set answer,” he said.
He said a pro to dissolution is St. Johns County has more money and resources.
“We do have failing infrastructure,” he said. “The county has the means and funding to address them much easier than we can.”
But he also said the town has come a long way, and if it isn’t dissolved he’d be OK with that too.
“Just because we don’t have an additional $50 million in our replacement and renewal fund, which would be really nice, we never have,” he said. “So we’ve learned to make it work and we’ll continue to make it work.”
If the question goes on the town's November ballot, and voters want the town dissolved, commissioners would have about three months to create a transition plan.
Lindsey Kilbride can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 904-358-6359 or on Twitter at @lindskilbride.