By REID TUCKER
DeFuniak Springs resident J.B. Hillard at last got his chance to address the City Council on a topic near and dear to his heart – the development of a long-term strategic plan for the city.
The Council’s enthusiastic and unanimous vote in support of the suggestion made at the Aug. 25 meeting will move the city in that direction. Mayor Bob Campbell agreed to make contact with the Institute for Senior Professionals (ISP), the organization that submitted an opportunities and needs report to the city in June.
The Northwest Florida State College-based ISP conducted interviews with city officials and members of the public to identify several areas in need of improvement across the board at the city, with the main highlights being a call for a capital improvement and strategic plan but also the development of a more robust business community
“My view of the bottom line for the city is to do whatever is necessary to bring both government and citizens together to address the areas as identified by the ISP,” Hillard said in his address to the Council.
“The ISP didn’t tell us how to solve our problems. That’s the responsibility of the City Council, city staff and participating citizens who have a deep interest and care about the future of our town.”
Though putting DeFuniak on a sustainable and attainable track over the next decade and attracting higher-paying jobs to the city remain the highest priority areas, Hillard said special consideration should be given to partnering with local business organizations like the Walton Area Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Alliance. Part of the creation of that strategic plan will be to set up a series of public workshops to gain even more input from city residents, and Hillard said the ISP representatives who compiled the report have promised to make themselves available to assist the city in that endeavor. Hillard said these workshops should help the city gauge the public’s aspirations and also provide a voice for ordinary citizens with business expertise.
“We have got to get together as a city and as a government to help ourselves understand where we want to go as a community,” he said. “I don’t think we as citizens know and I don’t think the city council knows, but the ISP study has identified a great number of issues that we should be talking about. Not that we are going to agree with all them, but we should be talking about them.”
Following Hillard’s comments, Councilman Mac Work made the motion to contact the ISP requesting the group’s assistance in creating a business/strategic plan for the city. The council members cast a straight 5-0 vote to support the motion.
That wasn’t all for the City Council meeting though, as the bulk of the sprawling 46-item agenda was still to be tackled.
In brief, the Council heard an update from City Attorney Clayton Adkinson regarding the newly drawn-up blight ordinance, which will be presented to the board at its next meeting, whereupon the ordinance will have its first reading on the way to formal adoption. Councilman Mac Carpenter ran down a list of 13 items all related to the city’s master plans in various areas from economic development, to progress at the airport industrial park, to the compressed natural gas fueling station business plan. City Manager Sara Bowers addressed Carpenter’s queries and notified the Council that the preliminary city audit called for should be ready by Sept. 5.
Public Works Director Tilman Mears returned to the issue of speed bumps versus speed humps, with the Council eventually returning a 4-1 vote in favor of purchasing two pre-manufactured speed humps to replace the speed bumps on College Avenue. Each of the 20-foot-long speed humps, made from recycled rubber materials, will cost the city $2,084 and change, while each of the larger humps have a price tag of $2,617.60.
The Council also voted 4-1 to use $17,760 of the unused funds previously allocated for relocating the Gene Hurley Park equipment to pay for installation of new lighting for the city’s water tower. Councilman Henry Ennis voted against the measure on the basis that he felt the money could be better utilized elsewhere at this time.
By REID TUCKER