By REID TUCKER
The DeFuniak Springs Municipal Airport could soon have two new tenants as the City Council voted to begin drawing up lease agreements with two helicopter-related firms.
The Council members voted unanimously at its regular meeting on June 11 to move toward bringing in the pair of new businesses on leases of one-to-three-year terms at a rate of $1,000 per month.
The first firm focuses on the repair of small helicopters, the only such business for hundreds of miles, but a company representative nevertheless requested that the terms of the lease be for one year as the availability of work would rely on word getting out about the services offered by the firm. The second firm holds eight government contracts, primarily using its helicopters to fight fires on military bases in the area, though its 60 employees are spread out as far west as California and as far north as Washington D.C.
James Raquel, owner of TRG, the second firm, said his Gulf Breeze-based business will likely expand its portfolio rapidly in the coming months as the Air Force, the company’s primary client, consolidates its contracts. This means TRG could expand its fleet from one helicopter to three or four plus a fixed-wing aircraft. He said TRG could theoretically support 15 or so high-end, skill-intensive jobs such as pilots and mechanics, with salaries averaging in the $80,000 range for the former and $65,000 for the latter.
It was decided that the lease agreements with both firms would include 60-day right-of-rescission clauses applicable to either the city or the tenant. One of the only requirements of either firm was that the hangars they aim to occupy be equipped with modular office space at the city’s expense to help keep startup costs down. Though a dollar amount was not discussed at the time of the meeting, the Council agreed to have city staff look into purchasing trailers for use as office space as future tenants at the airport could make use of them.
In other airport-related news, the Council also voted unanimously to award an $837,380 contract for the first phase of site development at the location of a new hangar. The Council unanimously decided to award an $88,840 contract for the purpose of quality assurance-focused on-site inspection in relation to the previous site development project. City Manager Sara Bowers said 80 percent of the funds needed for the contracts come from Florida Department of Transportation grants to the city.
Bowers also brought before the Council the renewal of the city’s agreement with the Walton County Heritage Association, which operates its museum at the site of the old train depot on Circle Drive. The Council voted 5-0 to re-up the agreement for a five-year term.
City staff recommended that the Council award a bid for human resources consulting services to Landrum Professional Services, Inc., a Pensacola-based company. The contract with Landrum initially asked that 60 hours of work be prorated at $130 per hour for its services, but the Council decided to change the agreement to pay on an as-needed basis. The Council members voted 4-1 to approve the contract.
Public Works Director Bill Holloway also got the Council’s approval to approve the budgeted $58,380 purchase of an in-channel screw screen compactor for the city’s wastewater treatment facility. This equipment, the installation of which is required by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection if the city is to stay in compliance with its wastewater treatment permit, removes larger solids and debris from the wastewater flow before it enters the treatment facility and increases the efficiency of operations at the plant.
The City Council also approved several ordinances after their required second reading at the meeting. These ordinances included one to give the city manager the authority to suspend workers without pay provided the Council can vote to overturn that decision. The others repealed the proportionate fair share ordinance, as has been discussed at length at previous meetings, and the final one updated the concurrency management section of the city’s land development code.
The ordinance amending the land development code requires traffic analyses to be carried out by applicants for new use of or a new building on otherwise “raw land.” The study must take into consideration the impact of the new development on traffic safety, capacity increases and congestion. FDOT does its own traffic studies every few years to determine a baseline traffic capacity figure against which applicants’ analyses will be measured.
A request from the Walton County School Board to begin preparation to abandon Park Avenue and certain other streets, alleys and rights-of-way around Walton Middle School was met with approval from the Council after much discussion. The School Board plans to construct new buildings at the school, eventually replacing most of the extant structures in an effort to increase campus security and to modernize the aging facilities. The project, which had its conceptual plan approved at the School Board’s Tuesday meeting, will be undertaken in three to four phases spread out over several years.
The DeFuniak Springs Police Department received approval from the City Council to transfer funds seized as a result of criminal investigations to the city and to establish two line-itemized budgets for the expenditure of those funds.
Finally, Councilman Ron Kelley broached the idea of having downtown’s caboose repainted as, in his words, the vehicle was beginning to look more pink than red. Staff notified the Council that the company from which the red paint was bought claimed its paint was fade-resistant and the city is therefore seeking compensation. Holloway told the Council that a shade of blue is being considered when the time comes to repaint the caboose, as it was originally that color and not the red, or pink, it is now.