Oversight or hindsight?

The county has published their proposed spending plan for an estimated $39 million in local option sales tax funds, and not surprisingly folks aren’t happy with the distribution.

The projects listed are clearly important. The first responders’ radio tower that is listed at a price of $750,000 should have been built years ago. It is unacceptable for those that provide for basic public safety, our firefighters and police officers, to be unable to safely communicate to those stationed outside a building. We are lucky none of these men and women have been hurt due to this lack of  basic infrastructure.

The county failed to plan ahead years back when the growth trend picked up in the Navarre area, and citizens now are paying for it, literally and figuratively.

As for the several million dollars of drainage improvements needed to stop the flooding in Holley by the Sea, how else could the county possibly expect to be able to shell out that kind of money other than through these additional funds? There just isn’t room in the current budget for that kind of large scale project without serious grant money, and we know that the residents of Holley by the Sea are tired of being ankle deep in water when it rains.

But the nearly 70 percent of the funds going toward transportation and drainage does not reflect the new firetrucks and police cars that were marketed to the tax payers.

County Administrator Tony Gomillion put it best when he said everyone you ask is going to have a different idea about what this tax was supposed to be like. So nobody is completely happy.

But the really frustrating part of the proposed plan is the virtual gutting of authority from the Surtax Oversight Committee. This group of individuals has in essence been told ‘you will serve on this committee as yes men.’

They have no authority to propose projects or even prioritize them. As it stands, the committee is simply there to say “yes that is a capital project” after the truly important part of the process is over and done.

What is the point of having the oversight committee at all? In effect by having them give a big rubber stamp of approval at the tail end of the process, they provide no real oversight.

As committee member Scott Kemp said, this is not what he signed up for.

And what happened to reporting to the public annually on the progress of the tax? This was one of the big goals for the committee when it was proposed by Ed Carson in the first place, but there is no mention of it in the current plan. Again, no oversight from the oversight committee.

Through removing the committee’s power the commission has said ‘if you do not want us on the committee, we will not give you any power.’ While that may not be their intention, it is the message they are sending.

What’s worse is it takes the power out of the tax payers’ hands.

The ray of hope in this is the public meetings the commissioners proposed having within their districts to hear from the citizens, but with Commission Chairman Rob Williamson insisting that the existing project list should be used, it feels more like a ‘telling tour’ than a ‘listening tour.’

We understand that Williamson wants to check some items off the county’s existing list and that list is a result of citizen input, but there are additional projects that groups may have in mind, namely the fire departments, that are not already on the county radar. You cannot plug your ears and ignore those requests.

But Williamson has other vested interest in the tax being spent this way. He stuck his neck out to try and get funds reallocated for sheriff’s raises (and possibly staff raises, too) from this tax through creative accounting. If the money ends up going to something other than the existing projects list, his math might no longer work.

While we know the sheriff’s deputies desperately need a raise to be on par with neighboring counties, is it really a good idea to pay yearly reoccurring costs such as salaries with a funding source that expires in five years? What happens in five years if voters do not renew the tax? Where does the salary money come from then?

Again, planning ahead at its finest.

The history of Santa Rosa County reads the same for years. There is a trend of those in power doing the best they can with what they have at the time, but not looking to the future needs. No one took the time to look at the growth trend in areas like Navarre and Pace and put the necessary infrastructure in place.

We kick the can down the road because it is not a problem now. Sure, this road is at full capacity. Sure, there is no radio signal out here.

But it’s not our problem until it’s too late and too expensive fix.


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