Holley by the Sea may lose LOST funds

Millions in improvements to drainage in Holley by the Sea (HBTS) could lose a funding opportunity following the second meeting of the Board of County Commissioners to discuss the future of the new local option sales tax (LOST) funds.

Commission Chairman and District 4 representative Rob Williamson recommended that the commission look at cutting the Tom King Bayou East Branch Channel Restoration, a $6.8 million project to improve drainage in HBTS, from the projects list to free up funds.

He also recommended lowering the amount of money allocated each year for road resurfacing.

“I would venture to say that if I were to talk to some folks in other parts of the county who weren’t immediately impacted they would probably feel that there would be a better allocation of those dollars,” Williamson said.

Some of the citizens in question were in attendance packing the seats. They requested a variety of adjustments including more funding for recreational parks in the Pea Ridge area and road improvements.

Currently there is very little wiggle room with in the LOST budget to add projects without cutting or outright eliminating projects.

Of the $39.5 million total expected revenue from the tax, 36 percent is ear marked for District 4 projects.

Williamson pointed out that of the roughly $12.9 million being spent in Navarre’s district, $6.8 million would be for the Tom King Bayou project. This is the costliest of the projects listed on the current proposed projects list.

“The Tom King Bayou restoration project is really skewing the numbers in District 4,” he said.

Williamson said not only does tying up that amount of money skew the balance from other districts, it prevents funding of other projects that District 4 residents were hoping to achieve when voting for the tax.

“I think we have stormwater drainage projects in some of the south county districts in 4 and 5. To me I think that particular project seems to throw things out of balance,” he said.

But for residents of HBTS who frequently face flooding in their homes, streets and neighborhoods, the recommendation does not bode well.

In January 2016 a comprehensive study of drainage issues in the county’s largest subdivision found dozens of projects needed to stop persistent flooding in the area and prioritized the Tom King Bayou project.

HBTS homeowners’ association president Yvonne Harper emailed Williamson to push for at least part of the improvement project to stay on the table.

“Given the continued growth in Holley by the Sea and Navarre, this project is vital to the overall interest of the area because there are several other channels that feed into the Tom King Bayou Channel,” she wrote. “As such, is it possible to keep the project on the list, but bid the project out for just cleaning of vegetation from the channel as an initial phase, which is part of the proposed scope?”

Williamson responded that it is unclear as to whether that would qualify as maintenance which is outside the realm of the LOST. He also suggested using the funds to purchase wetlands specific equipment for maintenance.

“Let’s get together, get the people of HBTS to pack a few commission meetings and get this done,” he replied.

In response, Harper emailed the HBTS membership requesting that they turn out to the third of the LOST meetings in mass.

“This is your chance to ‘pack’ the meeting to ensure HBTS stormwater projects do not get removed from the project list,” she wrote.

Police and Fire

Another request for funding frequently brought up were requests to fund fire departments and the Santa Rosa Sheriff’s Office.

The Santa Rosa County Firefighters Association (SRCFFA) put forward a request for a total of less than $1.5 million over the five-year life of the LOST to split between the 13 fire districts in the county. The money would fund equipment such as breathing apparatuses, radios, thermal imagers and extrication devices. The fire departments, which operate independently, were largely unrepresented in the initial LOST budget.

Midway Fire Department Chief Nick Anderson said considering that the tax was marketed to voters as being beneficial to fire departments they should receive a piece of the pie.

Under the proposal, local departments would receive:

  • $91,000 at Holley Navarre
  • $69,600 at Midway
  • $84,740 at Navarre Beach

The current LOST proposal does not reflect any funding to the fire departments.

Sheriff Bob Johnson also asked the board to move up construction of an additional radio site in Navarre to improve coverage. Currently there are portions of the county where first responders inside a building cannot make radio contact with the outside.

This is a safety issue he said. Currently construction would not begin until 2018.

LOST oversight committee member Scott Kemp said what is listed is not enough. He pointed out that firefighters responding to his home could not enter his house until another truck arrived due to under staffing. He said the sheriff’s office is also clearly understaffed and remains under paid despite recent raises.

While the tax cannot be used to pay personnel or hire staff, the money has already been used to relieve costs elsewhere to provide for raises for the sheriff’s deputies.

Commissioner Sam Parker pointed out that this process is important because without visible progress, the tax would likely not be reinstated at the end of the five years.

The third and final LOST meeting was held this week in Milton.

As seen in the April 20 issue of Navarre Press. Click here to subscribe for as little as $38 per year.

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