By DOTTY NIST
Walton County District 5 Commissioner Cindy Meadows has set ambitious goals, which she discussed with South Walton Community Council (SWCC) members and their guests at the fourth in a series of community forums hosted by the organization.
The May 23 community forum took place at the Coastal Branch Library.
As the county seeks to fill the vacant county administrator and public works director positions and bring an attorney on board to fill the new land use attorney position, Meadow spoke to the need for strong leadership and capable management of all county departments. The county must be able, she noted, to deliver services to the public on time, whether it be a permit, a return phone call, or an answer to a question.
In mid-May, the Walton County Board of County Commissioners approved a contract with the Florida Association of Counties (FAC) providing for FAC to vet applicants for the county administrator position and recommend five finalist candidates to the BCC within three months’ time. Meadows told SWCC members that Walton County needs a strong administrator who can build teamwork and bring consistency to county government. It will be essential for everyone to accept and work with a new administrator who may not be from the local area, she added.
In office since November 2012, Meadows said she believes the “tipping point” has been reached for parking, noise, and spring break issues in south Walton County, and she said she is seeing conflicts between locals and tourists growing. She pledged to address noise and traffic, including that associated with “event houses” in residential areas.
Residential areas should not be encroached on by commercial establishments and uses that are not compatible with neighborhoods, Meadows emphasized.
She told attendees that she plans to work with Walton County Sheriff Mike Adkinson to bring an ordinance forward to remedy the noise issue, possibly by expanding the noise ordinance currently in place for the Grayton Beach community. While a noise ordinance is in place for the area south of the bay, it has not been successfully implemented by the county, and Sheriff Adkinson has said that the existing ordinance is difficult to enforce.
A study is now underway to inventory parking in the beach area and along CR-30A and to identify critical parking areas, Meadows noted. Some restaurants, she observed, have set up off-site parking for employees. She spoke of the possibility of requiring new restaurants to provide this off-site parking when they are approved.
Also prioritized, Meadows said, will be preparations for BP funding coming to the area. The Local RESTORE Act Committee is in the process or organization and will be making recommendations for projects to be funded through money coming directly to the county through the RESTORE Act. The BCC will be looking at updating its list of projects proposed for funding through NRDA, and Meadows spoke to the need to have projects ready to get started once funds are available.
Regarding one project put on the NRDA list by the previous commission, Meadows said the director of state parks told her that the Grayton Beach fishing pier had never been approved for that park. She was unsure of how it ended up on the county’s list of projects.
Meadows was in favor of using NRDA funds to replace culverts with bridges at the coastal dune lakes.
She reported that the goal of getting bike path maintenance and landscaping, plus pick up of trash along the path and sides of county roads, funded through the South Walton Tourist Development Council (TDC) had been achieved. These items, along with a bike path construction project, were included in the TDC’s draft FY 2012-13 budget recently approved by the council.
Meadows has also set the priority of seeing that more of the funds expended by the TDC are spent in the local area, “if not in Walton County, at least in the Panhandle.”
In addition, she said she would like to see more community involvement with the TDC, possibly by reinstating the citizen committees that were in existence in the past to advise the council.
On May 14, the BCC had voted to direct staff to negotiate with Jim Bagby to bring him on board to fill the vacant TDC executive director position. Bagby is currently town manager for Rosemary Beach. Meadows commented that she thought having a director “that understands both sides of the coin,” would be helpful. She expressed confidence that Bagby would “do a great job.”
Expanding recreational opportunities has been one of Meadows’ priorities. She announced that an agreement with the Boys & Girls Club was being pursued to make the club’s south Walton County facility available to the public at times when it is not being used by the club. She said it is used by the club only during after-school hours.
The facility offers two soccer fields, two basketball courts, meeting rooms and an Olympic-size pool, Meadows noted. She was optimistic that the agreement would be completed.
Meadows said Waste Management has a pilot recycling program the company would like to institute in south Walton County, which would include 2,000 houses for a one-year period. The service would entail pick-up of trash one day a week and recycling one day a week if participants would agree to pay extra.
A big issue, Meadows said, is how to get Waste Management to pick up on Saturdays. There is difficulty with this, she explained, due to the county landfill closing at noon on Saturday.
Economic development north of the bay, Meadows commented, has been focused on the 350-acre Mossy Head Industrial Park, which is being developed by the county. She reported, however, that the $3 million for a wastewater treatment plant at the industrial park in the state budget and the $1.2 million for infrastructure there had been vetoed by Governor Rick Scott.
Meadows predicted that the four-laning of the U.S. 331 corridor in its entirety would bring “the biggest boom you’ve seen in this area,” with commercial development lining the corridor. Now being studied, she commented, is an overlay plan to guide development along that corridor.
In south Walton County, Meadows noted, the economic development focus has been on ideas for RESTORE Act funding. Among those ideas, she commented, are the addition of a science center at Northwest Florida State College and also the addition of a culinary school at the college.
With the recent hiring of Steve Jaeger, the new director for the Walton County Economic Development Alliance (EDA) and the presentation on May 28 of an economic development report by the Institute of Senior Professionals, Meadows was hopeful that Walton County would “get into the game” with economic development.
She invited attendees to come to two town hall meetings that she has scheduled. The first of those is set for 6 p.m. on June 6 at Edgewater Condominiums in Miramar Beach and the second is scheduled for 9 a.m. on June 20 at the Padgett Park Community Center in Santa Rosa Beach.