South Walton Mosquito Control Board hears legislative update, proposed re-evaluation of district

THE SOUTH WALTON COUNTY MOSQUITO CONTROL DISTRICT BOARD discussed district re-evaluation and other legislative subjects.

Story by ADRIANNE WALLINE CAMPBELL 

 The South Walton Mosquito Control District held its regular meeting on Jan. 18, 2024, at its headquarters in Santa Rosa Beach. 

Cammie Henderson, Financial Administration Manager, presented the Administrative Report. They have received 80% of Ad Valorem funds. They earned $149,564.35 in interest income for the first quarter, and expenditures were below budget for this time period. 

Director Darrin Dunwald met with Rob Bradley and Jayer Williamson of Oak Strategies on Jan. 16, 2024, along with their FMCA lobbyist attorney, Chris Lyons, to discuss hiring them as lobbyists for the State Legislature. 

Florida is undergoing some re-evaluating of special districts, and the South Walton Mosquito Control is under fire as well. Paul Renner, Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives is allegedly leading the charge. The following quote is from https://www.myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Documents/loaddoc.aspx?FileName= h7013b.SAC.DOCX&DocumentType=Analysis&BillNumber=7013&Session=2024 

“OPPAGA has also been directed to conduct performance reviews of all independent MCDs and soil and water conservation districts.127 These reviews must be submitted to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives by September 30, 2023, and September 30, 2024, respectively.

The bill establishes a term limit of 12 years for members of an elected body governing an independent special district unless the district’s charter provides for more restrictive terms of office. Any term of office that commenced before November 5, 2024, does not count toward the limitation created by the bill. This provision does not apply to the governing body of a CDD, or any independent special district created by special act that provides any amendment to ch. 190, F.S., to grant additional powers constitutes a power of the district and does not require an independent special district governed by an appointed governing body to convert to an elected body. 

     The bill reduces the maximum ad valorem millage rate that may be levied by an MCD from 10 mills to one mill. The bill requires all MCDs to perform the prerequisites for approval for the receipt of state funds for arthropod control from DACS by filing a tentative work plan and tentative detailed work plan budget. If the district fails to submit a tentative work plan and tentative detailed work plan budget, DACS must send notice of such failure to the department within 30 days.” [end of quote]

Attorney Amy Myers presented the board with an option to hire Oak Strategies, a lobbyist firm, to try to combat future and potential problems at the State Legislature. The board approved the hiring 2-1, with Commissioner Doug Liles voting nay, and they then decided on plan B which would be a one-time fee of $40,000 for the 2024 Legislative Session, limited to House bill CS/HB 7013. Including: 

• Assist SWMCD with legislative priorities for the 2024 Legislative Session.

• Track legislation for bills and/or amendments related to SWMCD.

• Lobby legislature for policy issues related to SWMCD.

• Set up and coordinate meetings for SWMCD with local delegation and other legislative members during the 2024 session as needed. 

• Lobby Executive Office of the Governor on policy issues related to SWMCD. 

Option A would cost $5000 per month retainer fee with a 12-month minimum and would include:

• Assist SWMCD with policy and funding issues for Legislative Session.

• Track legislation for bills and/or amendments related to SWMCD.

• Lobby legislature for funding and/or policy issues related to SWMCD.

• Set up and coordinate meetings for SWMCD with local delegation and other legislative members.

• Lobby Executive Office of the Governor on funding requests approved in the General Appropriations Act and/or any policy issues related to SWMCD.

• Assist SWMCD with communication to State Agencies as needed. 

• Facilitate local meetings/tours with SWMCD and local legislative members. 

Commissioner Liles asked what is the benefit of hiring them. Attorney Amy Myers responded that “the special districts, specifically mosquito control districts are under attack, and you have more to lose than you ever have. Particularly from this particular bill and the forces that are supporting it. For that reason, you have a lot to gain from someone who is advocating specifically for your interests.” She added,  “this is a personal attack on the mosquito control districts. The legislature has taken your potential budget from 10 mils to 1 mil although your already well under that.” 

Liles responded, “I’m against hiring more attorneys unless we have a specific pinpoint objective we’re working on that is unique for our community.” 

Henderson said, “They are trying to limit you guys to 12 years, or three election periods. Where are you going to get the people here in South Walton to do what you do for free?” 

Liles responded, “It’s like opening a Pandora’s Box. I think that if we want to have an effect on what the new laws are, we need to meet with the opposition and talk to them, not hire a law firm. We have a resolution from the BCC that they have no interest in taking over mosquito control. We can’t go without mosquito control down here and we are very good at what we do. I don’t think we need to worry about the boogie man coming to eliminate us because we are helping other districts and North Walton with newer technology, they need us. We make an effort to be cutting edge on things, I don’t think we’re lumped in with the rest of them. This is a swamp here; we’ve made it so you can live in a swamp.” 

Director Dunwald said, “I spoke with Mr. Lyons, and he said that we should do whatever we can to protect ourselves right now because we don’t know what’s going to happen. We need someone who’s going to be there fighting for us.”

Dunwald reported that they put out 1,109 pounds of Vectomax in December. They cleaned out South Church Street last month. Total positive birds (chickens) for the year were 92. EEE – 33, WNV – 52, and HJ – 7. He said he had received an email from the Planning Department concerning a development on Osprey Lane that they had stopped development because of an old mosquito ditch running East. It hasn’t been maintained in a few years. 

“Kevin Albright, our engineer, said they’d have to pipe it, they can’t just fill it. He got an email that they do not have a recorded easement on that property, and if we don’t have a recorded easement, they are going to fill it.” 

Liles said, “We have a prescriptive easement because water has been running through there.” 

Dunwald responded, “But we haven’t maintained it. If they fill it, they will be flooding people to the East.” Myers said to memorialize it. In other words, write a letter and send it out. 

Commissioner Liles stated that they still have not received the money from the auction:

Back in 2017, items from the SWMC were joined with Walton County and sold on the govdeals.com site. Unfortunately, they were never paid for those items and the money was included in the county funds. The amount was $17,864 and it was for vehicles that were sold.

Liles commented that anyone who hasn’t driven down Chat Holley recently needs to drive, especially at night by the gym. 

Cammie Henderson reported that the reason they lowered the speed limit on Hwy 393 to 35 mph was because of the golf carts traveling from the RV park.