Walton County Holds Public Forum and Final Strategic Planning Meeting in DeFuniak Springs

From Walton Co. Public Information Officer
On Thursday, April 6, District 2 Commissioner Cecilia Jones, in conjunction with Main Street DeFuniak Springs, hosted a Public Forum and Walton County Strategic Planning meeting at the DeFuniak Springs Community Center.
The meeting began with Commissioner Jones providing an overview of the topics that would be discussed as part of the public forum and introducing the guest speakers who were on hand. Following the introductions, Jones welcomed Mr. Jay Evans, Executive Director for Mainstreet DeFuniak Springs, who provided a PowerPoint presentation to the audience.
Evans gave an overview of the program and provided information to the group on the financial impact that open storefronts have on the city. He presented information regarding what the group is currently working on and their plans for the future. Additionally he stressed that while the program looks to accomplish some short term goals, the group and program are dedicated to building a better DeFuniak Springs to provide for long term growth and success.
Following the presentation by Evans, County Administrator Larry Jones addressed the group and discussed some of the big things happening in the county. Jones began by discussing the current progress of the U.S. 331 expansion and the tentative completion date of late May 2018.
Jones discussed the current legislation that was recently passed in Tallahassee regarding Customary Use, and how the county is moving forward with the process to ensure that the public has the right to access and recreational use all of Walton County’s Beaches.
In closing, Jones discussed the BCCs recent action to put forth a referendum to the public on the possible institution of a ½ cent sales tax. He discussed that while the BCC cannot lobby either for or against the possible tax, they felt it was important to put the vote to the public. The tax, if instituted, would provide and approximate $50 million over five years to fund countywide road, bridge and infrastructure projects.
Jones told the group that the county is assembling information regarding what projects would be funded if the tax is approved, and confirmed that the information would be available to the public prior to any vote.
Following the information from Jones, presentations were made by County Projects and Programs Manager, Rick Wilson, on the progress that is being made on Broadband in Walton County, Emerald Coast Technical College Director, Charlie Morse, provide an update on vocational education in Walton County and Walton County HUD Director, Tom Baker, presented information on affordable and workforce housing.
Walton County Economic Development Alliance Director, Bill Imfeld, discussed the potential economic benefit of the expansion and widening of U.S. 331 and the importance of infrastructure improvement in regard to sewer and water. Imfeld also discussed the importance of countywide economic development and the importance of planning for future growth.
The forum concluded with a presentation from Walton County Restore Act Coordinator, Billy Williams, who gave an update on Walton County’s process in obtaining funding through the Triumph Board as well as the RESTORE Act.
Following the forum, the Northwest Florida Regional Planning Council (NFRPC) Team, comprised of Planning Manager Jennifer Laurent, Urban Planner Megan Polk and Public Involvement Coordinator Annie Walthall, presented a Walton County Strategic Planning overview.
The meeting finished with a public participation interactive survey that obtained information from the group that will be used to assist in the development of the Strategic Economic Development Plan for Walton County.
While this meeting concludes the Northwest Florida Regional Planning Council’s interactive data collection process, Commissioner Jones will continue to hold public forum meetings in the future.