By DOTTY NIST
Cindy Meadows had identified garbage collection as one of the main issues to be discussed at her June 6 town hall meeting, and that certainly proved to be true.
The Walton County District 5 commissioner’s first town hall meeting focusing on this topic and recycling took place at Edgewater Condominiums on Scenic Gulf Drive in Miramar Beach. Questions and comments on general issues and concerns were taken as well.
Since taking office in November 2012, Meadows has relied on town hall meetings as a means of keeping in touch with citizens and staying abreast of their needs and concerns.
Miramar Beach is home to many beachfront condominium complexes. A source of irritation for condo residents attending the town hall meeting was that they are billed for garbage collection, while residents of single-family homes are not.
Surfside Resort resident Bob Robinson asked why this is so, stating that each resident of his complex is charged $110 a year for garbage collection. Robinson pointed out that these condos are residences just as single-family homes are.
A representative of Waste Management, the garbage collection company serving the county, explained that, since garbage for condominiums goes into a chute and then into a commercial container, Waste Management bills the condominium complex for collection from the container at the commercial rate—while Walton County pays for garbage collection for single-family homes. This is in accordance with Waste Management’s contract with Walton County, the company representative noted. The county’s current contract with Waste Management extends to 2016.
Suzanne Harris, president of Edgewater Condominiums, complained that all taxpayers are paying the one cent in sales tax that funds collection of garbage for single-family homes, while condominium residents have to pay for their own garbage collection as well, just as businesses do. She said she had brought up this problem with the county some time ago and had stated that it must be remedied.
Harris was quick to say that her complaint was not directed at Waste Management and that the company does an outstanding job.
The tax referenced by Harris is a small county surtax adopted by Walton County in 1994. It was approved by the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) at that time despite the fact that a non-binding referendum held on the proposed one-cent sales tax had failed by 17 votes.
Santa Rosa Beach resident and community leader Bob Hudson commented that he thought the BCC’s decision on that sales tax had been a wise one. That being said, Hudson noted that there are differences in what items are picked up in garbage collections between areas north of the bay and south of the bay. Hudson also stated that some commercial entities are being provided with garbage pick-up and not being charged separately.
Hudson also brought up the fact that the legislation establishing the one-cent sales tax had allowed for part of those funds to be put toward other uses such as capital projects. He was of the opinion that the county should look at using these funds to pay for garbage collection for everyone first, rather than “siphoning them off” for other purposes. He referenced a proposal to be considered soon by the BCC to use funds from this sales tax to pay for infrastructure at Mossy Head Industrial Park.
Also on the subject of garbage collection, Miramar Beach resident Larry Victor said he had been amazed to see so much garbage all over the streets on weekends. Waste Management only picks up on Mondays and Thursdays, while most rentals change out on Saturday, Victor noted.
The Waste Management representative commented that safety is a concern when it comes to the possibility of Saturday garbage pick-up, with a 60,000-pound truck stopping and starting in busy Saturday traffic. Also, she continued, the county’s transfer station for garbage closes on Saturday afternoon. However, she said Waste Management was working on the issue.
Meadows commented that so far the county has not chosen to add Saturday pick-up to Waste Management’s contract. If it were added, the cost would be more, she said. Saturday pick-up would mean that the county landfill would have to remain open until 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. on Saturdays, Meadows explained. One idea has been to enlist a private contractor to pick up garbage on Saturdays, she noted.
Another resident suggested requiring owners of rental properties to send their crews to pick up garbage on Saturday so that it does not sit around for several days. Meadows responded that the possibility of having rental owners take care of their garbage is being looked at.
Victor replied that rental owners are paying taxes to the county for garbage collection.
“We have to have business licenses in Walton County,” asserted Santa Rosa Beach resident Mary Nielson. This requirement, she maintained, would provide for commercial or business properties to be identified as such. Owners of all rental properties should be paying all required taxes, including tourist development tax and state tax, Nielson noted. Since garbage collection was the purpose of the one-percent tax, she argued, “we need to use it for garbage and solve our problem.”
“We’re working on it as we speak,” Meadows said of the garbage collection matter. She also pledged to investigate the situation that the condo owners had identified with their being charged for their garbage collection on top of the one-percent sales tax.
Meadows announced that she has been working with Waste Management toward setting up a pilot recycling program that would include 2,000 homes south of the bay. The plan would provide curbside recycling one day a week in place of garbage pick-up.
Inlet Beach resident Betty Letcher asked Meadows for her opinion on the sports center property that was being proposed for county purchase.
Meadows responded that she thought the proposal was worth looking at and that she wanted to have all details on it. She noted that a large number of families were expected to be moving south Walton County within the next five years and that more recreational facilities would be needed for children. The need for a new middle and high school has also been identified, Meadow commented.
Art Miller of the Institute of Senior Professionals (ISP) said ISP had done a sports complex study for Niceville and had found that such a facility would not be financially feasible. Miller said he was also concerned about how the property being considered for purchase had changed hands, “what’s the real pay off,” and what will surround the proposed sports complex. He concluded that he views the proposal “with great suspicion.”
Meadows responded that, at her request, information on the transactions concerning the property had been added to the BCC agenda packet for the item. The proposal was scheduled to be considered at the June 11 BCC meeting.
“How was spring break?” Meadows asked the group.
Attendees in the back of the room shouted compliments about the Walton County Sheriff’s Office’s (WCSO) handling of the spring break crowds. Spring breakers had been observed talking on their cell phones to friends saying that law enforcement was “all over” on the beaches, resulting in word being spread that Walton County beaches were not carte blanche for breakers.
Meadows also received compliments on the town hall meetings she had held to address spring break issues. Those meetings, which had involved law enforcement, were credited as an encouragement to the WCSO to step up monitoring of spring break crowds.
Another topic of discussion was the controversial roundabout planned for the CR-395/CR-30A intersection and roundabouts in general.
“I hate roundabouts,” said Hudson, who lives off CR-393. A traffic study approved by the county in 2006 had also included roundabouts as a recommended alternative at the CR-393 and CR-283 intersections with CR-30A.
“We don’t want a roundabout on CR-393,” Hudson told Meadows.
Meadows had recently worked with stakeholders to develop an alternative to the roundabout plan for CR-395, but it had been voted down by the BCC on May 14. Meadows said she had been told since that time that the funds spent to date on improvement of the intersection ($30,000) were ones that would be spent regardless of whether the roundabout or an alternate plan were being pursued….
Read the full story in the June 13, 2013 edition of the Herald Breeze.