Lost L.O.S.T.

Guest Opinion:

Lost: “no longer possessed; retained,” and “having gone astray or missed the way.” Based on recent comments regarding storm water projects related to the Local Option Sales Tax revenue tentative projects’ list, it seems District 4 Commissioner Rob Williamson is lost on the L.O.S.T.

Last November, the voters approved the L.O.S.T. because the voters were promised the revenue would be used in part for transportation and drainage improvements.

Voters in the south end were assured the revenue generated would be used for the purposes stated in the referendum, e.g. drainage improvements. Voters were told the L.O.S.T. was important because it would bring in revenue to fund such projects the county has not been able to fund through the general revenue because of the high cost of these projects. The first items listed on the referendum were law enforcement/fire and public safety facilities and equipment. In addition to the revenue allocated through the budget process, these entities will receive an additional 24% of the L.O.S.T. revenue generated over five years. The second items listed were transportation and drainage improvements. Very little over the years has been dedicated to drainage improvements in the south end. As such, voters believed the argument the revenue would be used, in part, to fund these crucial items and approved the referendum. Now the voters in District 4 are being told by their commissioner, Chairman Williamson, that we can’t fund important drainage improvements in Navarre because it’s not fair to other parts of the county.

“That… project is really skewing the numbers in District 4 and really countywide… six million of it is a project that I would venture to say that if I were to talk to some folks in other parts of the county that weren’t immediately impacted, they would probably feel that there would be a better allocation of those dollars.” (April 11 Infrastructure Sales Tax Meeting)

I imagine he’s correct: that residents in the north end wouldn’t feel an immediate impact of any storm water drainage project completed in the south end. Yet, Commissioner Williamson wasn’t elected to advocate for the residents of the north end; he was elected as the District 4 Commissioner and as such, he should advocate for this district. Still, he stood by his position at the April 18 infrastructure tax meeting. The project he proposed removing is the Tom King Bayou East Branch Channel Restoration (TKB3) project, estimated to cost $6.8 million. His assertion that this project “skews” the numbers and increases the percentage Navarre receives is correct, but to argue it is unfair to other parts of the county because “some folks” aren’t immediately impacted is pandering: nothing more, nothing less.

The TKB3 is “approximately 7,000 linear feet of channel restoration with associated drainage piping systems.” (Tentative Project List) The TKB3 is critical because it is part of an integrated system that other channels inside and outside of Holley by the Sea flow into. If the other channels are flowing, but the TKB3 is not, the water will back up and flood affected areas. The TKB3 has never been maintained, which may explain its high cost. To further delay this project will surely result in a higher price tag in the long run. Holley by the Sea and Navarre can ill afford more delays in critical storm water drainage infrastructure.

A State Housing Report issued to the commissioners on April 24 stated “Santa Rosa has traditionally been among the fastest growing counties in Florida.” (State of Housing Report). This is especially true in the south end. Development is visible throughout Navarre, be it home development or business development. This development results in more impervious surface and naturally, more water runoff. When it rains, the water must go somewhere; hence the importance of storm water management infrastructure. However, when these systems are not maintained, the water does not flow as it should, and flooding occurs. This will only worsen as development continues unabated.

Although the south end generates 57.67% of the property tax revenue for the county, Navarre residents have been told for years that there just isn’t the money to fix the problem; hence the need for the L.O.S.T. Well… now we are told we have to be fair. In other words, suck it up, because, well, it’s just too expensive. That’s not leadership; that’s socialism. Santa Rosa County may be an at-large voting county, but it is divided into five districts. Commissioner Williamson is District 4’s representative. He should represent this district and let Commissioners Parker, Cole and Salter advocate for the “some folks” who live in their respective north end districts.

Commissioner Cole (District 2) commended Williamson’s leadership when he said, “I think it showed good leadership in your own district to take a hard look at a project at almost [a] $7 million cost… so I would support this board looking forward at some of the options you laid out.” Of course Cole would feel this is a good idea, because that means more money for his district, but that’s not leadership, and it surely isn’t good for Navarre.

As for Williamson’s suggestions, yes, it would be easier to buy some equipment, but what good is equipment if the Public Works Department doesn’t have the manpower to operate that equipment? Yes, a percentage of the L.O.S.T. revenue could be used as a “set aside,” but that is not why voters supported the L.O.S.T. It was supported to fund critical infrastructure needs that cannot be met through the general revenue account.

Proactive leadership is what Commissioner Lane Lynchard (District 5) exhibited at the April 18 meeting when he said, “I think it’s an important project though, there are things you can do to move that project along…I would ask that before we finalize any list, we get staff to drill down deeper into the project, much like was done with Avalon Blvd when it was done in segments and the project moved along in terms of funding… Baby steps are necessary when you have $80 million in infrastructure in one area of the county you need to repair or retrofit.  Let’s look at perhaps doing engineering, getting that out of the way… one thing that we have said from the beginning is that in order to be successful, we need to be able to leverage these funds, and by getting the engineering done we have a project that is shovel ready and when dollars do become available through some particular grant process, we can go after it and we can stretch our dollars… [when grant funding becomes available] it’s a 3 to1 match; we can take 2 million and get the project done… we really need to key in on matching funds and see where we can amplify the L.O.S.T., there’s no reason that we should take $35 million and in five years have $35 million in projects; we should take $35 million and multiply that.”

I am grateful for Commissioner Lynchard’s leadership on this issue. My hope is that Commissioner Williamson will no longer be lost with the “some folks” of the northern districts, and come home to the “some folks” in his district. After all, he is Navarre’s county commissioner.

Yvonne Harper, Holley by the Sea Board President


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