By DOTTY NIST
To save on costs, the disbanding of a number of county boards, mainly inactive ones, has been approved. The Coastal Dune Lake Advisory Board (CDLAB) was also on the county commissioners’ list of boards to consider disbanding. However, there were objections to the elimination of the CDLAB as a county board, and the officials opted to evaluate the matter further before making a decision.
The discussion and action took place at the June 28 Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) regular meeting at the Walton County Courthouse in DeFuniak Springs.
Many boards and committees, with members appointed by the BCC, serve in an advisory capacity to the commissioners. Members of these panels are unpaid citizen volunteers, but the county does incur some costs, including advertising of the board and committee meetings as required by state law.
Following up on a staff recommendation, on June 28 the BCC voted to approve disbanding of six boards and committees which were considered to have fulfilled their purpose or for which need was no longer considered to exist. These were the ADA Committee, the Beach Education and Safety Committee, the Community Development Citizens’ Advisory Committee, the Cultural Plan Committee, the Recreation Board, and the Walton County Coalition.
The CDLAB has been in existence since 2002, when it succeeded the Dune Lake Task Force, which had been appointed to compile a set of recommendations for Walton County’s 15 globally-rare coastal dune lakes in the face of potential impacts from development in their vicinity. After completion of the recommendations, the task force was transformed to continue as a volunteer board and charged with ongoing advisory work aimed at conservation and protection of these unique natural features.
Marsha Anderson, chair for the CDLAB, told the commissioners that board members had voted to object to the disbanding of their advisory board.
Anderson said the CDLAB meets on a monthly basis. She described the lakes as a great asset to the county that are part of the South Walton Tourist Development Council’s marketing and advertising campaigns for visitors. She told the commissioners that the CDLAB members feel that their board plays an important informational and protective role in connection with the dune lakes—and that they believe they have much work ahead of them dealing with issues related to the lakes. Anderson noted that the Walton County Comprehensive Plan mentions the advisory board. She stated that the cost for the CDLAB to operate is basically limited to advertising for meetings. Anderson asked the commissioners to think carefully before making a decision to eliminate the CDLAB.
Anita Page commented that the county’s new evaluation and appraisal report (EAR) policy states that the county is to coordinate with the CDLAB for collection of environmental data for the dune lakes. She told the commissioners that the advisory board developed a management plan for the dune lakes and that there is “still a lot to do to implement the management plan.”
“Somebody needs to do this work,” Page said.
“I appreciate your passion,” District 5 Commissioner Cecilia Jones responded.
District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander asked about the cost of advertising for CDLAB meetings and was told by staff that it amounted to approximately $40 per meeting.
The commissioners discussed the possibility of discontinuing the CDLAB as a county board and combining it as an “offshoot” of a private nonprofit organization, the Friends of 30A. This is the group approved by the state of Florida as corridor management entity for CR-30A as a state-designated scenic corridor.
Jones suggested to Anderson that becoming part of the private organization would “free you up” to do fund raising that cannot be done by the CDLAB as a county board.
Anderson asked what would happen in this case if the BCC had an issue, for example invasive plants in the dune lakes, that they might want to ask the CDLAB to deal with.
“We would still call you,” Jones replied.
Page countered that funding is often a challenge with private organizations and that, as a county board, the CDLAB would not face this problem. Anderson was of the opinion that the CDLAB would be able to operate more effectively by staying connected with county government.
While voting unanimously to approve disbanding the six other county boards and committees, the commissioners opted not to take that action with the CDLAB, instead calling for more investigation on the possibility of combining the CDLAB with the Friends of 30A.
CDLAB vice chair Richard Bryan thanked the commissioners for their decision to take another look at the issue. “We really are dedicated and we want to work to protect those lakes,” Bryan said.