By DOTTY NIST
In the wake of Governor Rick Scott’s recent veto of funds that would have helped Walton County get the Mossy Head Industrial Park ready for occupancy, county commissioners are eyeing costs to do so and possible funding sources.
Walton County had requested $3 million for a wastewater treatment facility at the 315-acre county-owned industrial park and also $1.8 million for other park infrastructure items. Both requests had been included in the budget approved by the Florida Legislature but were vetoed by the governor in May.
The industrial park property was acquired by the county over 12 years ago through a property exchange with the USDA Forestry Service. It is in a prime location on SR-285 between I-10 and U.S. 90. with a CSX rail line main track running along the northern boundary of the property. The property was obtained with the intention of developing a mixed-use commercial/industrial park that would boost economic development in Walton County and supply employment opportunities for county residents.
Over the years there has been considerable interest in the park by potential business tenants, but until recently the lack of sewer service to the property stymied its development. In 2010, the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) moved forward with a plan to link two small wastewater treatment plants already existing in the vicinity of the industrial park, located at the Mossy Head School and Dixie RV, to provide sewer service to the park and surrounding area. The link has been completed, along with construction of water and sewer lines, making approximately 40,000 gallons per day sewage capacity available for potential occupants of the industrial park. A watewater treatment plant with a 300,000-gallon-per-day capacity has been designed and permitted for the park Pending the securing of funding, plans are for the county to have the $3 million plant constructed and ready to begin operation by the time the current facilities are in use at approximately 75 percent of capacity.
In strategic planning sessions earlier this year, county commissioners ranked the completion of infrastructure for the industrial park as a top priority.
Larry Jones, Walton County’s new special projects coordinator, has been enlisted to shepherd the industrial park project.
In a May 6 update to county commissioners, Jones reported water and sewer service as available at the industrial park, a master stormwater system designed and permitted, and roadway connections to SR-285 as complete. The west main roadway on the property is complete and the east main roadway is designed and cleared. Construction of feeder roads will be based on final lot configuration at the park and tenant needs, Jones stated. CHELCO stands ready to provide power to the park at a cost of $300,000 for overhead power lines or $1 million for underground electric, according to Jones’ update. Centurylink offers limited phone service south of U.S. 90, and discussions are ongoing on options and costs. Options and costs are also under discussion with Brighthouse Cable for internet and cable service to the park.
On June 24, at the request of the BCC, Jones presented a cost structure providing for phasing of park infrastructure build out. The presentation took place at the BCC meeting on that date at the Walton County Courthouse.
Jones provided the cost information based on infrastructure and electric needs for six sections of the park property, divided north to south, and also for the property in total. For the property as a whole, infrastructure and electric costs plus a 12-percent contingency came to slightly less than $1.3 million. Jones said the costs provided reflected county public works crews doing construction services.
In response to a question from District 3 Commission Bill Imfeld, Jones said that none of the parcels at the park had currently been committed to tenants. Imfeld requested that Jones bring back information on the areas of the property that potential tenants had inquired about.
District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander had suggested that the county look at using funds from the landfill reserve account to pay for infrastructure at the industrial park, and at the June 24 BCC meeting Jones also mentioned that account as a potential source of funding for the infrastructure. Howver, the use of this source of funding has encountered opposition, particularly from residents of condominium complexes.
The landfill reserves are the result of a 1-percent sales tax used to fund residential garbage collection. Residents of single-family homes are not charged for their garbage collection, as it is funded from this tax revenue. However, residents of condominium complexes that combine their garbage and put it down a chute are charged for their garbage collection, as garbage collection in this manner is defined as commercial per the terms of the county’s contract with garbage collection company Waste Management. Condominim residents also pay the 1-percent sales tax and have complained of double taxation.
Along with garbage collection, economic development is an allowable use of funds from this 1-cent sales tax, based on criteria set when the tax was approved in 1994. However, in recent months condo residents have called for these funds to be used to fund garbage collection for all residents before any part of them is put toward other purposes.
Several speakers representing condo residents were present at the June 24 BCC meeting to emphasize this message. A speaker stating that he was respresenting 70 condominium associations and individual owners urged the BCC to address inequity associated with garbage collection. He pledged to pursue the matter “from a legal standpoint if necessary.”
The setting of a public hearing will be necessary to amend the budget to use a portion of the landfill reserves for industrial park infrastructure. No such hearing has been set at this time.
Contacted on July 1, Jones commented that the county was “looking at all avenues” to fund infrastructure for the industrial park. He said he had been meeting with federal and state agencies to pursue possibilities for this funding.
More discussion on the industrial park is planned for the July 9 BCC meeting, and Jones is to present recommendations on where to begin with the installation of additional infrastructure at the park. That meeting is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. and take place at the South Walton Courthouse Annex.