By REID TUCKER
It has long been the rule that, in the end, there can be only one…one tourist development council in Walton County, that is.
While that hasn’t changed, a recent opinion handed down from the state Attorney General suggests that the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) could, via voter referendum, adopt an ordinance creating a new tourist development tax district – one that encompasses the whole county. The members of the DeFuniak Springs City Council were, in a word, all for it, with the board voting 5-0 at its June 24 meeting in favor of asking the BCC to move ahead with the ordinance.
As it stands, the South Walton Tourist Development Council (TDC) has the authority to levy the 4.5 percent tax on hotel rooms and short-term rentals (the so-called “bed tax”) only in areas south of the Choctawhatchee Bay. Furthermore, the TDC can only use those monies to promote tourism within 25 miles of the area the tax was collected, which rules out DeFuniak Springs and most of the rest of northern Walton County. A new ordinance, if supported by the majority of voters, excluding those from the existing tourist development tax district, could ensure that tourism-generated revenue could be spent to market the entire county.
A new tax district, if created, would not immediately have access to all the same tax revenues already gathered in the south end of the county, as the remaining money would still have to be spent south of the bay. The Council was quick to point out that, while there are not nearly as many hotels and motels in the north, that is likely to change as the U.S. 331 four-laning and resurfacing project moves forward and more businesses open. The tax, as in south Walton, would apply only to room accommodations, not food or fuel purchases.
The county would have to adopt a resolution at least 60 days prior to the enactment of an ordinance levying the tax and establishing a reorganized Tourist Development Council.
Although TDC talks dominated the meeting, the City Council had a busy agenda besides, with the topics of discussion ranging from troubles with flocks of Canada geese to whether or not to terminate the airport construction agreement with URS Corporation and enter into a new one with Baskerville-Donovan, Inc.
The Council voted 5-0 in favor of having city staff make contact with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission about relocating the federally protected waterfowl that have, as residents said, somewhat taken over Lake Stanley and have begun causing a nuisance to homeowners and visitors.
As to the airport construction-related item, the Council voted down Councilman Mac Work’s motion to switch engineering duties to Baskerville-Donovan, with the consensus being that, if the engineering firms were to be changed, that decision would only be made after the city went out for bids from all approved engineering firms. The Council decided to table the issue until the next meeting, and after the Tuesday, June 25 Walton County Economic Development Alliance meeting at which new industry at the airport was expected to be the main item of discussion.
Finally, the Council once again returned to the issue of a new DeFuniak Springs Police Station headquarters at the former site of the Walton County Health Department. The board voted 5-0 to seek bids for both construction of an entirely new police station after demolition of the existing building as well as a major overhaul of the existing building, which will require having its roofline raised to accommodate up-to-date electrical systems while meeting building code. It was decided at the last Council meeting to use the $99,125,95 available in the police impact fund to get started on the project if possible.