Beach replenishment tab is moving target

Although at least three Santa Rosa commissioners support exempting beach leaseholders from paying an extra share of the planned $17 million sand replenishment project, the board’s eventual vote will likely hinge on the county’s overall budget needs.

“I think we’re going to see some commissioners keep their powder dry” until next year’s budget is prepared in August, said District 4 Commissioner Rob Williamson at his town hall meeting in Navarre last week.

“I’m one of those commissioners,” he told an audience of three dozen constituents.

Meanwhile, Williamson is looking into another possible revenue source: selling some parcels of county-owned land at Navarre Beach that he described as “surplus” when speaking to the Navarre Area Board of Realtors last week. County records show at least eight such parcels totaling 411 acres, mostly vacant. Some of the land fronts the Gulf of Mexico and is near or adjacent to high-end real estate developments.

Preferences but not promises

Williamson told the Realtors he was floating the beach land sale idea for the first time – apparently before discussing it with other commissioners.

“Do I want to do that? No,” Williamson said.

The land is tentatively reserved for environmental preservation or recreational use, according to Beckie Cato, the county’s development services director. Still, she said, commercial use of some county land in Santa Rosa has been allowed for years.

When Teresa Pack, vice president of the Navarre Beach Leaseholders and Residents Association, learned about Williamson’s idea from a reporter, she cited the need for more details before expressing an opinion.  “It just seems like we already pay more than our fair share at the beach in lease fees. We’re really hoping the commissioners decide to use that money, which comes from the beach, for the beach.”

Some of Williamson’s colleagues might well be open to the land sale possibility as they review budget needs and the pressure from beach leaseholders to find replenishment money outside their pocketbooks.

Consider District 3 Commissioner Don Salter, who told the Navarre Press on Friday, “My goal is that we find a way to eliminate any (special assessment) on the beach. But we have to find out what kind of impact that would have on our budget for the rest of this year and next year.”

District 1 Commissioner Bob Cole previously indicated his support to eliminate the leaseholders’ replenishment assessment, although he has stopped short of promising to vote for such a measure.

Commissioners Jayer Williamson and Lane Lynchard have been less clear about their intentions.

Asked by one constituent if he would eventually press his board colleagues to eliminate the planned special assessment, Rob Williamson said yes, but only “at the appropriate time.”

Only one way

For now, the renourishment assessment that looms for the roughly 2,000 leaseholders is in the range of $87 to $218 apiece annually. That estimate has fallen sharply since earlier this month when the Florida Legislature allocation toward the project reduced the amount needed from other sources.

Still, beach property owners are lobbying commissioners to use their annual lease fees, recently capped at $250, to help pay for the replenishment instead of requiring the special assessment – called a Municipal Benefit Service Unit. Lease fees traditionally go into Santa Rosa’s general fund to be used anywhere in the county that commissioners see fit.

Salter told a reporter that he sees “only one way” to eliminate the special assessment for beach leaseholders: using at least some of the leaseholder fees for the project.

Tapping the lease fees has at least one potential flaw: more than 300 leaseholders are 120 days or more overdue in paying their fees, as the Navarre Press has reported. County records show that the total in arrears exceeds $300,000.

As seen in the April 21 issue of Navarre Press. Click HERE to subscribe online today!

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