By REID TUCKER
Debate swirled in DeFuniak Springs Council chambers following a motion proposing a plan to phase out the city’s monetary support for charitable civic and social organizations.
Councilman Mac Work suggested at the Council’s Aug. 12 meeting that the city implement a five-year phase-out program, at the end of which charitable organizations would be “weaned off” from receiving budgeted city funding in the form of cash support and free rent. Work proposed that Fiscal Year 2014 be set as the starting point of the plan, and that no new organizations could be added to the list receiving support in the meantime. Furthermore, no organization would be able to request more funding than it received in FY2014, funding which, per the Council’s last budget workshop, was already dialed back to FY2013’s amounts.
Work’s motion was seconded by Councilman Ron Kelley, but both men withdrew their motions after several audience members and other councilman spoke in opposition of the phase-out plan. Those against such a move placed special emphasis for continued budgetary provisions for non-profits such as the DeFuniak Springs Little League, Walton County Economic Development Alliance and the Tri-County Community Council, which administers the city’s Senior Center. Work said his goal all along was simply to get the board to look critically at the issue and, upon withdrawal of the motion, the Council decided to revisit the subject at its Sept. 23 meeting, at which the board will set a date to hold a workshop.
Councilman Mac Carpenter, though he doesn’t outright oppose limited funding for civic organizations, said the Council instead needed to use the workshop to set its broader budgetary priorities and to have the individual city departments develop their own strategic plans. With those plans in hand, the city can then make informed decisions about which supplemental services to support financially, he said. The city is essentially “shooting from the hip” without a strategic plan in place, he concluded.
Carpenter also weighed in heavily in the Council’s other big topic of deliberation of the night, which carried over from the town hall-style open public forum held the hour prior to the start of the regularly scheduled meeting. Carpenter called for the reinstatement of Florida’s transportation concurrency mandate, repealed via ordinance in 2012. Carpenter said the unintentioned consequence of doing away with transportation concurrency, a move taken upon advisement from former Planning Director Greg Scoville, has been to contribute to private citizen Diane Pickett’s efforts to “unwind” the deed in which she donated 31 acres to the city as part of US 331 four-lane development.
As per the agreement with the city, Pickett was to receive an appraised amount of $7 million in future proportionate fair-share credit in return for the donation of the land, while DeFuniak Springs was to get about $600,000-worth of utilities relocation from the Florida Department of Transportation. However, Carpenter contended that the deal, both in regard to Pickett’s future credit and the city’s was now effectively off, as that agreement was made before the city opted out of participating in transportation concurrency and proportionate fair-share. If the dispute were to wind up in court, and if Pickett’s argument that the transfer of the deed was invalid is upheld, the city would be financially responsible for the cost of relocating utilities as part of the highway widening construction project.
Though Picket’s legal representatives have cited a defect in the deed as the reason to void the transfer to the city, Carpenter suggested that if concurrency was reinstituted that the property owner would have little reason to attempt to transfer the money directly to the Department of Transportation. After more discussion on the topic, the Council voted 5-0 to move forward with the legal steps necessary to repeal Ordinance 817 and to put together a new ordinance reinstating transportation concurrency, a draft of which will be submitted for first reading at the next Council meeting on Aug. 26. City Attorney Clayton Adkinson and Pickett’s representatives were scheduled to speak via conference call Wednesday, with the city having until Aug. 21 to file a legal response to the demand for reimbursement.