By JEFFREY POWELL
Governmental budgets are tight and getting tighter on local, national and global levels. It seems no agency is exempt from trying to maintain its services on an abbreviated fiscal foundation.
Locally the Walton Board of County Commissioners (BCC) and the Walton County Public Schools system are working at a fever pitch to make ends meet during this economic downturn.
A significant expense for these agencies and others is the use of county-owned vehicles. According to Walton County Administrator Ronnie Bell, the personal use of Walton County vehicles is not allowed and he has voluntarily quit taking his vehicle home at night. He does acknowledge that some vehicles do get driven home nightly but points out that they are driven by personnel on 24-hour emergency call. “A very limited amount of county vehicles go home at night,” Bell said.
Walton County Schools Superintendent Carlene Anderson echoed Bell’s comments. “The board approves those vehicles that go home at night,” said Anderson. “Those people have a 24-hour responsibility to the school system.” Anderson does not have a vehicle assigned to her.
Another agency that has the use of county-owned vehicles is the South Walton Tourist Development Council (SWTDC). The SWTDC has a policy in place that allows north Walton County employees to car-pool to work using county-owned vehicles. On any given night several of these vehicles can be found parked at the Walton County Agricultural Center in DeFuniak Springs. According to SWTDC Beach Maintenance Manager Dave Sell, five SWTDC vehicles either go home with employees or are parked in DeFuniak Springs as a central location for car-pooling. Emploees are not allowed to use these vehicles after they get home. He also stressed that some of these four-wheel drive trucks are used if there is an unforeseen event needing 24-hour attention.
The SWTDC’s Executive Director Sonny Mares defended the practice. Mares said, “I think this is a good use of taxpayers’ dollars because the vehicles are used to maintain the beach. This is a long-standing policy of the TDC and a good use of the vehicles to get the job done.”
Mares also pointed out that no ad valorem taxes are used by the SWTDC. The SWTDC is funded through a four-cent bed tax. Discussions are in progress about raising the tax to five cents.
When asked about the vehicles specifically used for car pooling, Mares also felt this was a good policy.
“We started car-pooling when gas prices were close to four dollar a gallon,” Mares said. “We have a lot of employees that live in the north part of the county. This is a benefit we are able to provide that will stretch their dollar.”
“We strive for efficiency,” said Sell. “We recognize the importance of tax dollars.”