Haste makes $7 million waste

One thing we can all agree on is Navarre Park needs upgrades. The playground equipment needs repairs, and is not friendly to special needs children. The things we cannot agree on is why we would spend $7 million on one 7 acre park and the source of the $7 million.

Pam Wingate, president of the association for Summerwinds on Navarre Beach, said in her statement to the board at Monday’s Board of County Commissioners meeting, “$7 million for 7 acres is unheard of.”

The discussion that ensued on the master plan of Navarre Park between the commissioners reaffirmed our belief that other district’s commissioners are looking out for Navarre in spite of ourselves.

The $7 million park plan, or $9 million as it was once referred to during the county commission meeting, was complimented by all – “What’s not to love about this plan?” Sam Parker asked. One commissioner even referred to the “wow factor” of the plan. But one by one, they expressed their concern with the price tag, the funding and the push for a vote Thursday on how to pay for it.

The four other district commissioners were a little taken aback when they heard Jack Sanborn, longtime TDC member, say this plan had not been presented to or vetted by the TDC, the organization tasked by Florida state statute with the oversight of how bed tax dollars are spent. They all agreed it must go to the TDC before they would support any part of the plan. And it should. If they are spending bed tax dollars shouldn’t the TDC have a say in how that money is spent? They haven’t always had a voice in important matters such as this, but it looks like this time they will get one. Let’s hope it is a new trend.

District 5 commissioner Lane Lynchard took the strongest stance seeking the reasoning behind items in the proposed plan including – last fall, they canceled concerts in the park because the sheriff had a concern about traffic congestion and safety surrounding the event. Now the same commissioner that raised the safety concern proposes to invest $7 million in the park and bring more people in? “Last year we didn’t want more people in the park and this year we do?”

We would have gone a little farther and asked – if it is such a safety concern, why does the master plan include a covered stage? Why are we adding 55 more parking spaces? Will 55 more cars in the park add to the congestion on Highway 98? Of course it will.

Lynchard also wanted to know why Phase 1a and 1b included the demolition of the Butterfly House’s learning center and the plan doesn’t call for the learning center to be replaced until a “future phase.” Does that mean the Butterfly House will remain closed until a new learning center can be funded and built? Will the Butterfly House be required to fund or partially fund its own building?

Lynchard also inquired about the $215,000 set aside for a community center in Navarre and transferring that money to the park. There were citizens that were passionate about a community center – Lynchard asked “is that off the table now?”

Salter and Parker wisely want the plan broken down in to affordable and manageable pieces. “The first time we saw this was just two weeks ago. I don’t want to jump on an all or nothing vote,” Parker said. “Let’s see it broken down.” And Salter said he too wanted to see it in “bite sized pieces.”

The main message was scale down and slow down. The commissioners saw this plan two weeks ago and were “surprised and shocked” by the price tag. Calling for a Thursday vote was unreasonable and they expressed as much.

Borrowing money against the Visitors Information Center would end up costing the county an additional $130,000 per year to be paid for with bed tax dollars. Lynchard wanted to know if that was the highest and best use for that money – investing in a “passive park.” He had heard others interested in ballfields and sports complexes which could be done at half the cost.

In the end, the other four district commissioners were truly looking out for Navarre. If a major hurricane or other disaster hit our area and our bed tax dollars decreased significantly, would we be willing to pick up the tab on the loan? They want to see fiscal responsibility, a smaller plan using recreation dollars only or this plan spread out over time. They want to see funding options other than what was presented, they want to hear from the community, they want to hear from the TDC. All of the things that should have been done before pushing for a vote.

Other than one, the commissioners do not want to be forced to make a hasty decision, especially one involving $7 million…or, is it $9 million.

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