By REID TUCKER
The DeFuniak Springs City Council voted unanimously to support the interlocal agreement with the Walton County Economic Development Alliance (WCEDA), but the Council was split when it came to details of the associated funding agreement.
These two items composed part of the busy agenda before the Council on Monday, Feb. 13. However, in spite of discussion on a variety of topics needing to be put to the vote, all met with unanimous approval from the Council except the issue of funding the economic development services offered by WCEDA.
The city of DeFuniak Springs’ Fiscal Year 2012 budget made provision for WCEDA’s $15,400, which is to be paid to the organization in equal bi-annual installments, compensation amount. While all council members voted to support the yearly interlocal agreement, Councilman Ron Kelley made a motion to split the funds budgeted for compensating WCEDA between that organization and the city’s own economic development committee.
Kelley’s rationale was that, while it is in the interests of DeFuniak Springs’ citizens and businesses to continue to support the WCEDA, the fact that it provides services for the entirety of the county and not just DeFuniak Springs means at least half of the money should go directly to helping immediate local economic development. The FY2012 budget also includes provision for $3,000 to be paid to the DeFuniak Springs economic development committee, but it was Kelley’s opinion that it was not enough.
“I don’t think that $15,000 is a lot of money for either organization but I think if we’re going to be serious at all we need to make a little bit more of an even swap,” Kelley said. “I’m of the opinion that we need to give at least half this money to our own committee. I also feel like we need to keep our feet under the table with the county EDA because whatever business comes to Walton County, whether it be in Paxton, Freeport or south Walton it helps the whole county.”
Councilman Mac Work seconded Kelley’s motion to divide the funds between the two economic development groups and both voted in favor of this move when it was put to the vote. However, Councilmen Henry Ennis and Wayne Graham voted against the motion, and, as Councilman Kermit Wright was not present at the meeting for medical reasons, the deadlock was settled by Mayor Harold Carpenter. Though the mayor abstained from voting, he took the nay side of the vote, so the motion failed.
Graham then made a motion to agree to compensate WCEDA for the full aforementioned amount. This also ended in a 2-2 vote, with Kelley and Work dissenting, though Carpenter once again settled on the side of WCEDA.
“I feel like that we need to hold onto our obligation to the amount of funds that we created in the budget for the Walton County Economic Development Alliance,” Carpenter said. “If the other committee needs money we need to look elsewhere to see if we can come up with some funds.”
Next, the mayor proposed joining with other north Florida municipalities and county governments in a joint resolution to support the restoration of Amtrak service to the Sunset Limited Route, which, at the height of its operation, was the only truly transcontinental rail line remaining in active service in the United States as it stretched from Los Angeles to Jacksonville. However, service on the New Orleans-to-Jacksonville stretch of the route ceased due to damaged caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Information provided with the draft resolution indicated that damages have been repaired and freight traffic on the line has been resumed while passenger traffic has not, in spite of a 2008 federal act requiring Amtrak to re-implement service between New Orleans and Jacksonville.
The documentation continued, showing how this inactivity has created 13 so-called “stranded stations” and cites the negative economic impact resulting from the situation. The Tallahassee City Commission and the Wakulla County Commission, among other local governments, including the city of Crestview, already passed resolutions calling on Amtrak to begin implementing its plans to restore services along the north Florida portion of the rail route. Similarly, the DeFuniak Springs Council voted 4-0 to support the joint resolution.
The other items on the agenda passed quickly and in order. The Council voted unanimously, giving the go-ahead for event organizers with the Walton Area Chamber of Commerce to continue with plans for the second annual Marvel of Flight expo, set for May 19 at the DeFuniak Springs Municipal Airport. A request to hold the parade, planned to take place on March 17, which marks the beginning of 60th annual Little League baseball season, also passed unanimously when put to the vote.
The Council also voted 4-0 in favor of two items brought up by Planning Director Greg Scoville. The first was to reschedule a public hearing before the Planning Board to Feb. 27 and the second was set the date of another hearing for March 23. Both hearings involve requests for accessory structures by commercial operations.
Other items met with unanimous approval were the authorization of a temporary hire to the city’s water department and the appointment of Terry Dawkins to the Economic Development Tourism Committee.
Finally, City Manager Sara Bowers invited the mayor and councilmen to the first annual Snowbird day, to be held Thursday, Feb. 23 at the Chautauqua Hall of Brotherhood on Circle Drive. The event is aimed at bringing out-of-state visitors to south Walton to DeFuniak Springs for a day of tours of historic homes and landmarks for the purpose about familiarizing them with the community as part of the city’s ongoing efforts to attract new business.