(1) There is created within the department the Rural Infrastructure Fund to facilitate the planning, preparing, and financing of infrastructure projects in rural communities which will encourage job creation, capital investment, and the strengthening and diversification of rural economies by promoting tourism, trade, and economic development.
(2)(a) Funds appropriated by the Legislature shall be distributed by the department through grant programs that maximize the use of federal, local, and private resources, including, but not limited to, those available under the Small Cities Community Development Block Grant Program.
1(b) To facilitate access of rural communities and rural areas of opportunity as defined by the Rural Economic Development Initiative to infrastructure funding programs of the Federal Government, such as those offered by the United States Department of Agriculture and the United States Department of Commerce, and state programs, including those offered by Rural Economic Development Initiative agencies, and to facilitate local government or private infrastructure funding efforts, the department may award grants for up to 30 percent of the total infrastructure project cost. If an application for funding is for a catalyst site, as defined in s. 288.0656, the department may award grants for up to 40 percent of the total infrastructure project cost. Eligible projects must be related to specific job-creation or job-retention opportunities. Eligible projects may also include improving any inadequate infrastructure that has resulted in regulatory action that prohibits economic or community growth or reducing the costs to community users of proposed infrastructure improvements that exceed such costs in comparable communities. Eligible uses of funds shall include improvements to public infrastructure for industrial or commercial sites and upgrades to or development of public tourism infrastructure. Authorized infrastructure may include the following public or public-private partnership facilities: storm water systems; telecommunications facilities; broadband facilities; roads or other remedies to transportation impediments; nature-based tourism facilities; or other physical requirements necessary to facilitate tourism, trade, and economic development activities in the community. Authorized infrastructure may also include publicly or privately owned self-powered nature-based tourism facilities, publicly owned telecommunications facilities, and broadband facilities, and additions to the distribution facilities of the existing natural gas utility as defined in s. 366.04(3)(c), the existing electric utility as defined in s. 366.02, or the existing water or wastewater utility as defined in s. 367.021(12), or any other existing water or wastewater facility, which owns a gas or electric distribution system or a water or wastewater system in this state where:
1. A contribution-in-aid of construction is required to serve public or public-private partnership facilities under the tariffs of any natural gas, electric, water, or wastewater utility as defined herein; and
2. Such utilities as defined herein are willing and able to provide such service.
1(c) To facilitate timely response and induce the location or expansion of specific job creating opportunities, the department may award grants for infrastructure feasibility studies, design and engineering activities, or other infrastructure planning and preparation activities. Authorized grants shall be up to $50,000 for an employment project with a business committed to create at least 100 jobs; up to $150,000 for an employment project with a business committed to create at least 300 jobs; and up to $300,000 for a project in a rural area of opportunity. Grants awarded under this paragraph may be used in conjunction with grants awarded under paragraph (b), provided that the total amount of both grants does not exceed 30 percent of the total project cost. In evaluating applications under this paragraph, the department shall consider the extent to which the application seeks to minimize administrative and consultant expenses.
(d) The department shall participate in a memorandum of agreement with the United States Department of Agriculture under which state funds available through the Rural Infrastructure Fund may be advanced, in excess of the prescribed state share, for a project that has received from the United States Department of Agriculture a preliminary determination of eligibility for federal financial support. State funds in excess of the prescribed state share which are advanced pursuant to this paragraph and the memorandum of agreement shall be reimbursed when funds are awarded under an application for federal funding.
1(e) To enable local governments to access the resources available pursuant to s. 403.973(18), the department may award grants for surveys, feasibility studies, and other activities related to the identification and preclearance review of land which is suitable for preclearance review. Authorized grants under this paragraph may not exceed $75,000 each, except in the case of a project in a rural area of opportunity, in which case the grant may not exceed $300,000. Any funds awarded under this paragraph must be matched at a level of 50 percent with local funds, except that any funds awarded for a project in a rural area of opportunity must be matched at a level of 33 percent with local funds. If an application for funding is for a catalyst site, as defined in s. 288.0656, the requirement for local match may be waived pursuant to the process in s. 288.06561. In evaluating applications under this paragraph, the department shall consider the extent to which the application seeks to minimize administrative and consultant expenses. (3) The department, in consultation with Enterprise Florida, Inc., the Florida Tourism Industry Marketing Corporation, the Department of Environmental Protection, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, as appropriate, shall review and certify applications pursuant to s. 288.061. The review shall include an evaluation of the economic benefit of the projects and their long-term viability. The department shall have final approval for any grant under this section. (4) By September 1, 2012, the department shall, in consultation with the organizations listed in subsection (3), and other organizations, reevaluate existing guidelines and criteria governing submission of applications for funding, review and evaluation of such applications, and approval of funding under this section. The department shall consider factors including, but not limited to, the project’s potential for enhanced job creation or increased capital investment, the demonstration and level of local public and private commitment, whether the project is located in an enterprise zone, in a community development corporation service area, or in an urban high-crime area as designated under s. 212.097, the unemployment rate of the county in which the project would be located, and the poverty rate of the community. (5) Notwithstanding the provisions of s. 216.301, funds appropriated for the purposes of this section shall not be subject to reversion. 1Note.—Section 56, ch. 2014-218, provides that:
“(1) The executive director of the Department of Economic Opportunity is authorized, and all conditions are deemed to be met, to adopt emergency rules pursuant to ss. 120.536(1) and 120.54(4), Florida Statutes, for the purpose of implementing this act.
“(2) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the emergency rules adopted pursuant to subsection (1) remain in effect for 6 months after adoption and may be renewed during the pendency of procedures to adopt permanent rules addressing the subject of the emergency rules.
“(3) This section shall expire October 1, 2015.”