By DOTTY NIST
The panel set up to evaluate options for funding the $75 million local match that is being required for the four laning of the U.S. 331 Choctawhatchee Bay bridge is scheduled to hold its first meeting at 8:30 a.m. on Jan. 5 at the South Walton Tourist Development Council office. The meeting is open to the public.
Dawn Moliterno, South Walton Tourist Development Council executive director and Walton County’s point person for the U.S. 331 widening effort, commented that the task force has been charged with a very narrow job that must be accomplished in a very short amount of time. This is because their recommendation to county commissioners will be due for presentation at the last Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) meeting in January. That meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Jan. 24 at the South Walton Courthouse Annex.
The task force will be looking at two funding options. One would be a $2 toll on the new southbound bridge span on which the state anticipates construction will begin in 2013. The other option would be an 1-percent increase by Walton County in its sales tax. It has been estimated that the proposed toll would continue for a 30-year period. If the sales tax increase is the funding method selected, it has been estimated that bonds that would be sold to initially fund the local match would be paid off in approximately 11 years.
The state Department of Transportation has communicated to Walton County that the over $100 million in federal funding that would be made available to fund the bridge expansion depends on the local match being provided.
Moliterno said Walton County Finance Director William Imfeld would be present at the Jan. 5 task force meeting to provide information to the members.
Task force members include: Walton County Sheriff Mike Adkinson; Kitty Whitney, Walton Area Chamber of Commerce director; Bonnie McQuiston of the Walton County Taxpayers Association; Wayne Bodie of Florida Transformer; and Lee Grantham of CHELCO.
Moliterno said a 4 p.m. Jan. 11 public workshop would be held at the South Walton Courthouse Annex specifically to take public comments and suggestions on the funding options. She added that it would be up to the task force to decide whether to hold additional meetings prior to their recommendations being presented to county commissioners on Jan. 24.