By DOTTY NIST
Newly-hired Walton County Administrator Bob Halfhill describes himself as a “nuts and bolts guy” and says he hopes to implement some new ideas.
Still in his third week on the job, Halfhill accepted the opportunity to address the Walton County Taxpayers Association (WCTA) on the occasion of its 30th anniversary annual meeting.
The meeting took place on March 20 at the Coastal Branch Library.
Halfhill comes to Walton County with more than 20 years’ administrative experience in municipal government, serving most recently as public works director for Charlotte County. Among his posts with other Florida cities and counties, Halfhill worked for Escambia County from 1999 to 2003, starting as public works director and later serving as interim county administrator.
He holds a masters degree in public administration from National University in San Diego and a bachelor of arts in communications from the University of West Florida in Pensacola, his home town.
Prior to getting into government work, Halfhill served as an active-duty Marine Corps officer. His military career spanned approximately 18 years after his enlistment in 1972.
Halfhill spoke of the top values he had taken from his military experience and applied to government work, including integrity, decisiveness and leadership. He explained that he is a goal setter.
He described himself as conservative when it comes to the budget, saying that he questions why money is in a line item when it has not been used. Halfhill expressed eagerness to get started with upcoming budget scrubs.
He was also eager to try out promising new ideas and concepts, gauge their effectiveness, and try to get county departments and divisions to “buy into” those innovations.
Halfhill said the need to promote economic development in Walton County had been emphasized to him by county commissioners during the interview process. “I’m fascinated by it,” he told attendees.
While intent on keeping a rein on expenditures, Halfhill indicated that he would strive to see that the county work force, vehicles, and facilities presented themselves well to the public. He gave the example of a sign that he had noticed just outside the door of his office building, reading “Keep Walton County beautiful.” The sign had been dirty and full of holes, Halfhill explained, and he said he had seen that it was replaced.
Concluding his remarks, Halfhill told WCTA members that he would like them to become consultants and advisors to him. “I’m going to use you,” he pledged, putting attendees on notice that they would be getting phone calls from him.
“The goal is constant improvement,” Halfhill declared.
In a question and answer period, Mary Nielson encouraged Halfhill to visit CR-30A on a Saturday morning when tourists are checking out and garbage is piled up along the road.
Walton County District 5 Commissioner Cindy Meadows, who was in attendance, asked Halfhill to elaborate on his ideas regarding road paving.
“I’m a road guy, and to do anything you need a plan,” Halfhill responded.
“I look at outsourcing as a force multiplier,” he continued. A road paving plan should factor in road length, traffic count, and, in all, 15 different elements, he explained. As part of a paving program, he said he would have core samples taken to gauge how roads are performing.
The worst thing to do, Halfhill commented, would be to do as some had suggested and borrow money to get all roads paved at once. Some roads would not need work yet, he explained, and if all paving is done at once, those same roads would need repaving at about the same time, putting a strain on resources.
Halfhill went on to discuss heating ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Utility companies are willing to replace HVAC systems with updated equipment at no cost to the county, he revealed, as the companies will make money on energy savings. He also said he would plan on looking at the feasibility of alternate fuel vehicles.
On the issue of employee pay increases, Halfhill observed that what had worked well in other areas had been nonmonetary merit rewards for employees such as additional time off. He was in favor of rewarding employees for exemplary work.
Alan Powdermaker complained that the WCTA’s success in having an impact on the budget process was currently less than had been hoped. He charged that too much of the budgeting process was being conducted out of the public eye and that WCTA members felt like they were “coming in at the end” of the process. Powdermaker has long advocated zero-based budgeting in Walton County.
WCTA Executive Director Bob Hudson commented that WCTA members have been allowed to attend budget scrub sessions but have not been allowed to be active participants in those sessions.
Halfhill responded that the public’s primary opportunity for participating with the budget process would be at the two public budget hearings that are held every year. The first part of the budget process involves the county departments putting their budgets together, which does not lend itself to public participation, he commented.
“There will be no secrets, no deals made,” Halfhill pledged. He agreed to get together with Powdermaker, talk further on the topic of the budget process, and try to address his concerns.
“Welcome to Walton County,” Mike Judkins told Halfhill.
“We are very excited to have him,” said Meadows. She was hopeful that the citizens would offer encouragement to Halfhill and the other new staff that the county would be hiring.
Frank Day also extended a welcome to Halfhill as a fellow Vietnam veteran and thanks for his service.