By DOTTY NIST
The initiation of tram service for CR-30A and Scenic Gulf Drive was discussed recently by county commissioners, and more information on this possibility will be forthcoming.
The discussion took place at the Jan. 22 Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) regular meeting at the Walton County Courthouse in DeFuniak Springs.
Dawn Moliterno, South Walton Tourist Development Council (TDC) executive director, came forward with a request to seek an attorney general’s opinion on the use of bed tax funds for the tram service.
Moliterno explained that at the TDC’s Dec. 10 meeting, there had been a presentation by Charlie Reichman on the tram service. Reichman, part of a volunteer group of about 20 people working toward setting up the service, explained that their concept was that there would be no cost to riders and that the service would be funded through the combined support of businesses and the TDC.
Following the Dec. 10 meeting, members of Reichman’s group had met with Moliterno and District 5 Commissioner/TDC Chair Cindy Meadows.
Moliterno said she had brought up the situation with payment for tram service in Okaloosa County having been shifted from bed tax funding to funding by the county as the result of an auditor’s report. Past legal opinions in Walton County, she continued, had also indicated that bed tax funds could not be used for this purpose. Moliterno told the commissioners that Meadows had suggested that she seek BCC approval to get an attorney general’s opinion on the question.
Meadows stated that bed tax funds had previously been used in 2007 for tram service in Topsail Hill Preserve State Park. She urged for seeking the attorney general’s opinion in order to move forward with the effort. “We do have a project,” she emphasized.
Meadows framed the question that should be asked as whether bed tax revenues could be spent on a tram to serve CR-30A and Scenic Gulf Drive. She said she anticipated that, if the attorney general said no, that Reichman’s group would proceed with looking for other funding.
Suzanne Harris of Edgewater Beach Condominiums expressed some concern about this use of bed tax funds. She said it was her hope that bed tax funding used for this purpose would be set up to benefit bed tax collectors in all areas of south Walton County, not just the CR-30A area.
Harris said she was also interested in seeing the business plan for the proposal and knowing how the tram service would make money. Harris warned that, if the county went forward with providing the tram service in this manner, this would not be the only case of someone coming to get bed taxes to support a business.
Reichman had estimated a $685,000 operations cost for the service in the first year, plus a $415,000 cost for the initial investment in equipment.
A motion to seek the attorney general’s opinion was approved unanimously by the BCC.
The Feb. 12 BCC meeting at which the tram service proposal will be presented is scheduled to start at 4 p.m. The meeting location is the South Walton Courthouse Annex.