By DOTTY NIST
Bob Brooke has been elected to take the helm as Walton County Taxpayers Association (WCTA) president, and the organization’s board of directors has welcomed two new board members, Randy Powers and Jim Bagby.
The WCTA held its annual meeting on Jan. 17 in the Grimaldi Room at South Walton Utility Company in Miramar Beach.
Now in its 35th year, the community organization serves as an independent, nonpartisan advocate for county taxpayers, promoting lower taxes, efficient county government, transparency for elected officials and government agencies, and school excellence.
In addition to the election of Brooke as president, WCTA board members elected the following officers: Jim Bagby, vice-president; Shelia Grimes, secretary; and Dennis Cook, treasurer.
Other board members elected for a two-year term included Gary Adams, Mike Crook, Suzanne Harris, John Konopacki, Betty Letcher, Don Riley, and Bob Sullivan. With unexpired terms and continuing to serve will be Zuma Banks, Bobby Bowick, Bob Brooke, Danny Glidewell, Emmett Hildreth, Robert Hirsch, Jim Jaquess, and David Krika.
Advisory board members elected to a one-year term included Dan Scupin, J.B. Hillard, and Tracie Martin.
Bob Hudson, WCTA executive director, conveyed thanks to members for their work over the past year and reviewed WCTA accomplishments and goals for the coming year.
The WCTA had opposed the imposition of a half-cent sales tax for infrastructure that had been proposed by the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC), and the proposed tax appears to no longer be under consideration by the BCC. The holding of a referendum and favorable decision by voters would be have been required in order for the tax to go into effect. In May 2017 the BCC had taken no action after discussing advertising an ordinance to set up the referendum. Hudson said he thought ads run by the WCTA in opposition to the tax had been effective. Later, Danny Glidewell, outgoing WCTA president, identified the problem with the tax as that no plan “that made sense” had been presented to say how the money would be used.
Hudson said he anticipated that the half-cent sales tax would be brought up again by the BCC in 2018. He observed that some people believe any tax that is paid 60 percent by tourists is a good tax. (It is estimated that tourists would pay this percent of the tax if it were enacted.)
“We can all try to get the BCC to be transparent and tell the truth,” Hudson told the members.
He observed that the WCTA has not taken a position on customary use of the beach, and that the BCC had been spending a great deal of money in connection with that matter. A number of ongoing lawsuits have challenged the county’s customary use ordinance, and bills have been filed in the legislature that, depending on their final form, could negate the ordinance or its enforcement.
Turning to economic development, Hudson said, “The future of economic development is north of the bay.” He noted that Brooke had been attending Walton County Economic Development Alliance meetings on behalf of the WCTA.
Hudson also spoke about the Matrix Group being enlisted by the county for assistance in the updating of the Walton County Land Development Code (LCD) and Comprehensive Plan and observed that many issues in the county revolve around the LDC.
He brought up the Preservation Fund that developers may pay into in lieu of implementing a portion of preservation requirements on property that they develop. Hudson questioned whether those moneys were being used in accordance with the intent of the LDC. He spoke in favor of these funds being used to acquire property for the protection of the coastal dune lakes and the bay. He said this was an issue that he anticipated would come up in connection with the LDC update process or with litigation.
Hudson also urged members to be vigilant to ensure that Triumph oil spill funds were being spent as intended.
He told the members that a WCTA board meeting was planned for February to discuss issues and to narrow down the organization’s focus, in order to target matters to be taken up.
Suzanne Harris suggested inviting WCTA members not on the organization board to attend board meetings. She also spoke in favor of getting members together and perhaps carpooling to attend the next Triumph Gulf Coast Board meeting, scheduled to be held in Apalachicola, so that residents could hear for themselves what was going on with that organization.
The meeting is scheduled for 1 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (12 p.m. Walton County time) on Jan. 29 at the Franklin County Courthouse Annex, 34 Forbes Street, in Apalachicola. It is open to the public.
In response to questions and suggestions, Hudson agreed to add the topic of countywide fire rescue funding to the list to be examined by the WCTA.
There was some discussion of the organization A Better South Walton (ABWS) and its investigation of the possibility of incorporating the area south of the bay as a city, an issue on which the WCTA had not taken an official position. Hudson said he expected the matter of incorporation to come up again during 2018.
Jacquee Markel, a South Walton Community Council member and an ABSW board member in attendance at the meeting, asked, “How many great coastal communities do you know that don’t have their own government?” She said this was the feeling of the ABSW board members.
Markel added that, as an offshoot of several meetings with WCTA members, including Glidewell, Harris, and Hudson, a project is now underway to address a lack of communication between people in the county by setting up a network of neighborhood contacts in order to keep people updated on important issues. “A lot of people just get left out,” she said.
Glidewell indicated that he would remain on the WCTA board. He was of the opinion that the WCTA had accomplished much in the past year—and that the organization had had some impact on the half-cent sales tax not being pursued, along with the postponing of the effort by some of the commissioners to turn over quasi-judicial hearings currently held by the BCC and volunteer county boards to a special magistrate.
WCTA goals in connection with government were restated as “effective, efficient, and transparent,” as the meeting was concluded.