By REID TUCKER
The DeFuniak Springs City Council voted unanimously to award a contract for the demolition of the interior of the former Health Department building to eliminate pervasive surface contamination of mold and mildew.
The former Health Department building, located on U.S. 83, has been long planned as a potential future site for DeFuniak Springs Police Department headquarters, but widespread mold and mildew problems inside the vacated structure prevented any plans from going ahead until now. Inmate labor was previously considered for the project, but concern over health risks and the ability of city crews to supervise inmates led the Council to seek a bid for the contract. The project includes gutting the interior of entire structure plus the complete demolition of a 2,500-square-foot addition on the south side of the building that studies have shown was one of the sources of the water leaks that eventually led to the mold contamination.
Significant cost savings were at play in the Council’s decision when it voted at the regularly scheduled March 12 meeting, as the $35,990 contract awarded to Asco Construction, LLC., a Panama City Beach firm, undercut the next-highest bid by almost $34,000.
Assistant City Manager Bill Holloway, who presented the contract to the councilmen for their approval, said it was his intention to work with the contractor to recover and reuse the metal exterior panels and the framing of the south-side addition. These materials could be used by the city’s Public Works Department for future projects.
The City Council also voted 5-0 to authorize the DFSPD to use a Department of Justice grant to cover the cost of exchanging 20 of its five-year-old Glock 22 .40-caliber sidearms for the newest version in that series, the same as is currently used by the Walton County Sheriff’s Office. City Marshal Mark Weeks said the DOJ grant will take care of 100 percent of the $2,180 needed to replace the service pistols, the most substantial change to which is the addition of a replaceable backstrap on the grip to better accommodate shooters with different-sized hands. Glock will reportedly offer $300 apiece for the DFSPD’s current weapons and will sell the new models at a rate of $109 per unit.
The Council also voted unanimously to approve several other motions as part of its varied agenda, which featured discussion regarding authorization to set public hearing dates for two separate issues. Firstly, the proposed annexation of a 40-acre parcel of land owned by Chief Weeks had an April 9 hearing date set and, secondly, a proposed expedited permitting ordinance aimed at helping local business proceed with BP Oil Spill claims got the go-ahead for a March 26 public hearing date.
Other items that met with unanimous approval were the repealing of the “Proportionate Fair Share” ordinance, which Planning Director Greg Scoville said has a tendency to deter economic development activity because of the “vagaries of the science and engineering behind the costs assessed for transportation improvements.” The Council also voted straight down the line to approve a “Boot Drive” requested by Fire Chief Brian Coley to raise the funds necessary for this year’s Fourth of July fireworks display, the bill for which sits at approximately $8,000, Coley said.
Finally, the Council voted to set dates for interviews with the four applicants for the city’s vacant finance director position at the next meeting, after background checks have been completed, and to approve the appointment of local business owner Marilyn Lawrence to the Economic Devlopment and Tourist Committee.
While those were the major items requiring action at the meeting, the City Council also heard presentations from Sara Comander, who chairs the aforementioned Economic Development committee, and from citizen Jeannine Cole.
Comander gave the board an update on the success of the city’s first-ever Snowbird Day, which, despite bad weather for the duration of the Feb. 23 event, brought some 50 out-of-state visitors to DeFuniak Springs. Those who attended toured historic sites around the city, including St. Agatha’s Church, the Walton-DeFuniak Library, the Walton County Heritage Museum and the Chautauqua Theatre, as well as a brief tour of homes around the Lake DeFuniak area. Some guests also toured the Chautauqua Winery later that afternoon after the weather abated.
The Economic Development and Tourist Committee also got the Council’s approval to go ahead with plans to hold a “Family Fun Night” on Friday, May 4. The event will feature local entertainers, musical performances and possibly a dance, with all proceeds going toward the Fourth of July fund. Plans called for the closing down of two blocks along Baldwin Avenue and Comander said businesses will be encouraged to remain open late
Cole came before the Council to enumerate problems she had with the city’s ordinance procedures and public hearing notices. Cole said she perceived instances of the concealment of facts in public notices, especially in regard to last summer’s crematorium controversy. Additionally, Cole called into question the employment details of the city attorney position, which she suggested should involve term limits and a contract to avoid the formation of what she called “special interest liaisons” between the city attorney and government officials.
No action was taken by the Council regarding Cole’s suggestions at the meeting.