By ALICIA LEONARD
The DeFuniak Springs Economic Development Committee held its regularly scheduled meeting March 9, 2017 at 5:15 p.m.
On the agenda before the committee were citizen comments, past meeting minutes, information on Wayne Farms, CRA programs, Main Street Programs, and possible grant updates.
Under citizen comments, Robert McKnight urged the city to streamline and bring Code Enforcement policies up-to-date, as well as find a way to enforce those in violation.
McKnight said he believed that blight was showing the city in an unfavorable light and was costing the city new business as well as hampering people that might possibly be looking at the city as an investment or new home.
DeFuniak Springs Planning Director Kelly Schultz, AICP, CPM told the board the council and administration were looking at a number of different ways to make code enforcement more vigorous or put teeth into the code. Some of those ways would have the city moving ahead to handle nuisance properties, but could leave it holding the bag on costs if an owner could not be located of would not make payment on an abandoned property.
Chairman Mac Work told the group that Wayne Farms had closed up its business a few months prior, leaving 13 people without jobs.
Representatives from Okaloosa/Walton Job Center told the group that many had gone through training with them to find other employment and a few had taken retirement. The cause for the closing was attributed to a consolidation effort by the company, closing three of their plants and moving the remaining to a site in south Alabama.
Chris Mitchell, new grant writer for the city, said he had been busy and on the road in the first two weeks of his new employment, meeting with representatives from the Main Street program, and other activities.
Many of these programs require local businesses to provide some funding for the employment of a person to help coordinate the program, as well as seed money for other items. The grant itself only helps these business with technical development after the businesses and community get the program up and running.
The Main Street program first depends on the city applying and receiving help under the Community Redevelopment Act. Some funding for programs such as these depend on not only state funding but on funding from Washington if they are kept in future budgets.
Local business owner Bruce Naylor told the group that he frequently meets investors interested in the downtown area, but that many want to know if the city has a plan for future restoration and/or development. Without a plan, Naylor said it is hard to tell them what direction the city wants to move in. Getting a plan on paper and applying it to the downtown area would help ease the fears of those looking at DeFuniak for future investments.
“We need a master plan” Naylor told the audience. “Without one we’re not going to find our direction and grow.