Walton County District 3 Commissioner Melanie Nipper addressed attendees. (Photo by Walton Republican Women Federated Fb page.)[/caption]
By DOTTY NIST
Walton Republican Women Federated (WRWF) members their guests recently heard remarks from Melanie Nipper, Walton County District 3 commissioner, and witnessed the presentation of 2017 WRWF scholarships.
This was at the club’s May 17 regular general membership meeting at Cantina Laredo in Grand Boulevard.
The scholarships were announced shortly after the outset of the meeting by Margaret Crozier, WRWF scholarship chairman. This year’s recipients were Hannah Calderazzo and Cindy Nguyen, each receiving a $1,000 scholarship.
Nguyen is a recent graduate of Seacoast Collegiate High School, Crozier detailed, and Calderazzo is soon to graduate from South Walton High School. Nguyen has plans to attend Florida Polytechnic University to study in the field of cyber security. Calderazzo plans to attend the University of Florida to double-major in English and journalism and minor in theater arts.
Crozier said the scholarships were awarded based on academics, extracurricular activities, and essays submitted by scholarship candidates.
Essays had been requested on the topic of intolerance with regard to political conservatism. Both scholarship recipients were asked to read the essays that they had submitted and did so.
A surprise presentation to Nguyen and Calderazzo, with WRWF Legislation Chairman Charlotte Flynt doing the honors, was a special commendation certificate for each from U.S. Representation Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach), along with a letter from the congressman.
Commissioner Melanie Nipper addresses attendees
Featured speaker Melanie Nipper has served as Walton County District 3 commissioner since November 2016. The U.S. Army Blackhawk and airplane pilot told attendees that she had served in the Army for 24 years, with that service including three tours in Iraq. She noted that she is currently in the Army Reserves.
Nipper said she has been a Walton County resident for 11 years and has been a small business owner in the aviation field for 16 years. Currently, she and her husband James Nipper operate a sky-diving business from their farm in Paxton. Nipper said they also grow hay and squash on the farm.
She said her goal as commissioner has been to “do the right thing.”
“I make decisions with all my heart,” Nipper said.
She emphasized that she also does her “homework” before making decisions.
Nipper indicated that one decision she made she would not have expected. This was on the issue of medical marijuana.
She recalled going to a medical marijuana conference with the initial attitude of not wanting to allow marijuana in Walton County.
As factors causing her to look at medical marijuana differently, Nipper mentioned the 76 percent favorable vote by Walton County voters in November 2016 on whether to amend the Florida Constitution to legalize the cultivation, production, and dispensing of the substance for a broader population of eligible patients. She also learned, she said, that medical marijuana can help many patients and reduce opioid dependency.
She recalled then pushing for an ordinance that would make medical marijuana available in Walton County to patients who could benefit from the substance.
As of May 22, an ordinance providing for the establishment of medical marijuana dispensaries in Walton County was scheduled for consideration by the Walton County Board of County Commissioners on May 23.
Nipper also spoke of another BCC initiative that she had spearheaded, the transfer of operational responsibility for (North) Walton County Fire Rescue (WCFR) from the BCC to the Walton County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO).
While acknowledging that this had been a controversial issue, Nipper indicated that she was proud to have taken a stand for the transfer.
She said her heart had gone out to the WCFR personnel after hearing complaints from them about their job conditions. “They’re first responders just like I am,” she said.
In December 2016, on a motion by Nipper, the BCC voted to proceed with a feasibility study to determine whether transfer of operational responsibility would be viable. In January 2017, the BCC approved that the study be conducted by a committee assembled by Walton County Sheriff Mike Adkinson. The BCC also advanced $73,893 from the county budget for renovations and repairs at WCFR stations.
Upon presentation of the feasibility study on April 26, the BCC voted 3-2 to approve WCFR transfer under the WCSO, on a motion by Nipper.
Nipper told the WRWF members, speaking of the WCFR personnel, “I provided a better living and working condition… and hopefully am providing a better management situation.” She indicated that her intent was for further improvements in connection with WCFR.
In response to a question on how these improvements would be funded, Nipper observed that funding had been an issue all along with WCFR.
“It’s been coming from the general fund, and that’s probably where it’s going to be coming from now,” she said of the funding.
According to the feasibility study report, WCFR’s current annual budget is $10.2 million, with $929,884 annually coming from fire assessment fees collected on property north of the bay, about $1.4 million in emergency medical services billing for the year, and the approximately $7.8 million remainder coming from the county’s general fund. The current fire assessment rate is $75 per residential structure.
“I’m going to make it happen…no matter what, we must budget for it,” Nipper said. “We had to do something,” she added.
“I would like to see a line item budget,” Charlotte Flynt, who also serves as a South Walton Fire District (SWFD) commissioner, said, regarding the WCFR budget. She noted that the SWFD is held to this standard.
Speaking of infrastructure, Nipper referenced her strategy to reduce pressure on the south end by promoting the north end. She also spoke of the Seaside-based 30A Mobility Project, which emphasizes the use of autonomous vehicles, as “a great initiative.”
“I have been working on workforce housing,” Nipper added, explaining that county-owned acreage along I-10 near her office could potentially be used for businesses and employee housing. “My goal is a walkable community,” she said.
Along with other remarks, Nipper stated her opposition to the use of a special magistrate for quasi-judicial hearings, a possibility currently under consideration by the BCC.
The next WRWF general membership meeting is scheduled for June 21. Information on the club is available on the website www.waltonrepublicanwomenfederated.org and the group’s Facebook page.