Story and Photos by BEN GRAFTON
Before a good-sized audience including, in one grouping, nearly all the members (career and volunteer) of the Freeport Fire Department, the Freeport City Council conducted its regular meeting of Sept. 27.
Russell Beaty, Emergency Manager in the Walton County Sheriff’s Office spoke to the Council and told them that he had asked the members of the fire department to attend the meeting to provide an opportunity for the city to recognize them. Beaty continued by saying, “How you move forward with the department will affect our citizens and business partners in terms of service level and insurance rates… It will also affect the members of the fire department itself as they look to you for job security and a safe, professional work environment. … I encourage you to choose an option that will maintain the level of service your citizens have come to expect and deserve.” He concluded by saying, “… myself, Chief Ford and the Walton County Sheriff’s Office are here for you now and will be available to you now and in the future should you so choose.” The audience rose and gave a round of applause.
Also, in support of the fire department, a letter from resident John Koser was introduced which stated in part, “Freeport is a beautiful place to live. I live in Hammock Bay and bought here because of the services and safety in the community. I would ask that a new Fire Chief be hired through a professional process. Maintain the existing services. Freeport is a growing community. Don’t put the community at risk.”
Resident Ann Wigjum addressed the Council saying, “I moved from Destin to Freeport. I love the city. My friends are moving here too. We feel safe here and we need these fire department men, the safety they provide. My hat is off to them.” Another round of applause followed her statement.
Maj. Joe Preston, also of the Walton County Sheriff’s Office, delivered a copy of an amendment extending the term of the interlocal agreement, under which members of the sheriff’s office serve as interim chiefs of the fire department, until Jan. 31, 2013.
City Planner Latilda Henninger told the Council that she will provide a draft with revisions to the public land use policy at the next meeting.
Engineer Charlie Cotton of Preble-Rish reported that bids for the #4 Well project were due on Oct. 4 and would be presented to the Council at the next meeting. He also noted that specifications have been developed for new valves for the North Bay water extension, but engineering will wait until the necessary permit is in hand before going out for bids.
Cliff Knauer of Preble-Rish commented that work on the Rock Hill Road water extension project would not be started until the work to widen U.S. 331 in that area is complete. He stated that grant funds for rural communities might be obtained from the Water Management District for use on the extension project and recommended that prompt action be taken to submit an application asking for $75,000 to be matched with $25,000 from city funds.
Mayor Mickey Marse said the Council should consider extending water service to the Bruce community.
The Council approved a request by City Clerk Robin Haynes to authorize staff attendance at conferences requiring travel in the 2012 – 2013 fiscal year.
Haynes reported receiving a letter from Scott Cody, research demographer at the University of Florida that the Freeport population is now estimated to be 2,209 persons, an increase of 422 from the 2010 Census.
Councilwoman Elizabeth Brannon, a vice president of the Northwest Florida League of Cities, distributed material from the League arguing for rejection of proposed Constitutional Amendment 4 on the November ballot, which, estimates say, would strip nearly $1.2 billion from local government revenues, as “unfair, unbalanced, unworkable.”