(1) Among small counties, the Legislature finds that:
(a) The percentage of the population of small counties residing in the unincorporated areas is relatively high based on the United States Decennial Census of 2000.
(b) Projected revenue and expenditure trends of the small counties indicate that a serious fiscal condition has developed that could require a number of small counties to declare financial emergencies.
(c) Fiscal shortfalls persist even though 12 of the small counties levied the maximum ad valorem millage authorized in their jurisdictions in 2001 and an additional 15 small counties levied between 8 and 10 mills.
(d) State and federal mandates will continue to place additional funding demands on small counties.
(2) Recognizing the findings in subsection (1), the Legislature declares that:
(a) The financial difficulties confronting small counties require an investment that will facilitate efforts to improve the productivity and efficiency of small counties’ structures and operating procedures.
(b) Current and additional revenue enhancements authorized by the Legislature should be managed and administered using appropriate management practices and expertise.
(3) The purpose of this section is to provide technical assistance to small counties to enable them to implement workable solutions to financial and administrative problems. As used in this section, “small county” means a county that has a population of 75,000 or less.
(4) The Commissioner of Agriculture shall enter into contracts with program providers who shall:
(a) Be a foundation that meets the requirements for nonprofit status under s. 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code with a governing board which includes in its membership county commissioners and professional staff of the county.
(b) Have substantial and documented experience working closely with county governments in providing both educational and technical assistance.
(c) Use existing resources, services, and information that are available from state or local agencies, universities, or the private sector.
(d) Seek and accept funding from any public or private source.
(e) Assist small counties in developing alternative revenue sources.
(f) Provide assistance to small counties in areas such as financial management, accounting, investing, purchasing, planning and budgeting, debt issuance, public management, management systems, computers and information technology, economic and community development, and public safety management.
(g) Provide for an annual independent financial audit of the program.
(h) In each county served, conduct a needs assessment upon which the assistance provided for that county will be designed.
(5)(a) The Commissioner of Agriculture shall issue a request for proposals to provide assistance to small counties. The request for proposals shall be required no more frequently than every third year beginning with fiscal year 2004-2005. All contracts in existence on the effective date of this act between the Comptroller and any other party with respect to the Small County Technical Assistance Program may be accepted by the Commissioner of Agriculture as the party in interest and said contracts shall remain in full force and effect according to their terms.
(b) The Commissioner of Agriculture shall review each contract proposal submitted.
(c) The Commissioner of Agriculture shall consider the following factors in reviewing contract proposals:
1. The demonstrated capacity of the provider to conduct needs assessments and implement the program as proposed.
2. The number of small counties to be served under the proposal.
3. The cost of the program as specified in a proposed budget.
4. The short-term and long-term benefits of the assistance to small counties.
5. The form and extent to which existing resources, services, and information that are available from state and local agencies, universities, and the private sector will be used by the provider under the contract.
(6) A decision of the Commissioner of Agriculture to award a contract under this section is final and shall be in writing.
(7) The Commissioner of Agriculture shall provide fiscal oversight to ensure that funds expended for the program are used in accordance with the contracts entered into pursuant to subsection (4) and shall conduct a performance review of the program as may be necessary to ensure that the goals and objectives of the program are being met.