By REID TUCKER
The original role of DeFuniak Springs’ Economic Development and Tourism Committee changed over time into more of an events-promotion role and consequently had its name and duties changed last year.
However, City Councilman Ron Kelley said DeFuniak Springs would still be well-served by a committee geared toward growing the local economy by attracting new business to the area. His proposal at the Feb. 10 regularly scheduled Council meeting met with a unanimous vote to reinstate the committee following nominations from the rest of the board members.
“I thought it was a good idea when did it before, and although it morphed into something else I think it’s still a good idea,” Kelley said. “There’s a lot we can do to get ourselves on the map. We already know that other cities and other counties are doing everything they can to attract business, so I think it behooves us to make every effort we can to get noticed by these folks.”
Kelley said the Council’s nominees should be businesspeople with a “vested interest” in seeing the city’s economy grow, with the group’s primary goals being to promote DeFuniak Springs as business-friendly city. The Council will give the committee direction and will lay out specific duties for the group, so as not to encroach on the work being done by other committees. The new and as-yet unnamed committee will also work closely with the Walton County Economic Development Alliance to gather and make available demographic information regarding infrastructure and population figures – with the area just outside the city limits to be included.
While Kelley acknowledged the desirability of a “grand slam” situation in which a large scale employer would locate in DeFuniak, he said he’d be satisfied with a series of “base hits.” For instance, several smaller businesses could satisfy the immediate aim of filling vacant storefronts and available prime real estate throughout the city.
“If [the new economic development committee] brought in just one new business it would justify their existence in my opinion,” he said.
The rest of the meeting flew by, with the Council voting 5-0 on all remaining items requiring action.
The board approved two requests from Public Works Director Tilman Mears, the first being a recommendation to hire city employee Randal Holden to the natural gas supervisor position and the second being a request for staff to draft an ordinance changing the operating hours at the Community Center and Chautauqua Hall of Brotherhood. Mears said moving the closing time at the Community Center back from 2 a.m. to just after midnight would reduce scheduling conflicts with city workers as well as help to bring down loud noise complaints.
City Manager Sara Bowers got the Council’s approval to go ahead with a task order for the city’s engineering firm, Preble-Rish, Inc., to provide professional services with regard to the city’s part of the Juniper Creek Bridge improvements project. Preble-Rish will carry out engineering and design on the project, which calls for the relocation of utilities mains in preparation for the Florida Department of Transportation’s construction of a new bridge. The revised contract amount came in at $36,246.25.
Councilman Mac Carpenter made a motion to approve the task order and also to request that FDOT offer the same 0-percent financing on the front-end engineering fees as it agreed to on the construction project or to otherwise include those fees in the total cost of the project. The motion passed 5-0.
By REID TUCKER