Commissioners drag heels on Navarre Park improvements

Posted on September 25, 2017 by Romi White

Santa Rosa County Commissioners this morning decided to delay a vote on funding the $3.6 million first phase of improvements for the east side of Navarre Park.

“I don’t want to be forced into a vote today,” said Commissioner Sam Parker.

“It’s an effort to stall,” Commission Chairman Rob Williamson said, noting details regarding funding had been addressed during a September 7 presentation and follow-up meetings.

“You can’t be in support of the project and not support the funding of the project,” Williamson said.

But Parker said he wanted more time to further review proposed funding options. Other board members agreed.

According to a memo from Santa Rosa County Assistant County Administrator Dan Schebler, the following sources were identified for the first phase of improvements:

• $600K – District 4 Recreation Funds
• $500K – Tourist Development Council Reserves
• $215K – reassignment of funds from Navarre Beach Community Center
• $200K – District 4 local option sales tax recreation funds
• $200K – RESTORE Act project funding
• $20K – Local option sales tax ADA-compliance funding

“This totals $1.735 million of the required $3.6 million. To fully fund these phases an additional $1.865 million is needed,” Schebler stated.

Williamson had suggested using tourism tax reserves toward the remaining balance, considering county tourism revenues have seen significant growth and are not an allowable use for general infrastructure improvements.

However, Commissioner Bob Cole, said he’d like to see the proposed use of tourism tax reserves vetted through the Tourist Development Council. Commissioner Lane Lynchard agreed.

Jack Sanborn, a member of the Tourist Development Council, was one of two speakers who questioned park improvement plan funding. “I am on the TDC and probably senior member of TDC. This has not been seen by the TDC,” he said, noting the TDC provides oversight to ensure tourist tax funding is used per state statute requirements.

Tamara Foundation, president of Navarre Area Chamber of Commerce, echoed Sanborn’s suggestion that the TDC to review the matter first.

“Tourist development tax revenues are an allowable source of funding for this project,” Schebler told the board in a September 25 memo to the board.

Schebler in his memo also noted improvement funding could be procured via refinancing the Visitor Information Center located in Navarre Park. “Assuming the same term (15 years) and an interest rate of 2.9 percent results in an annual payment of $207,000 compared to the current payment of $87,000;
the payments would extend an additional 6 years beyond the current loan end date of 2026.”

Phases 1A and 1B include a new Panhandle Butterfly House vivarium, interactive water play features, ADA-compliant playground, filling in a duck pond and expanding walkways and parking.

Multiple Navarre citizens spoke today in favor of moving forward with the improvements, including Navarre Area Board of Realtors’ President Mark Miller.
“We’re here to support this park plan,” said Miller, who was joined at the podium by several fellow NABOR members.
Miller said he works across the street from the park and sees locals and visitors using the park he described as the Gateway to Navarre Beach. “To have park in condition it is now does not give us something to be proud about it,” he said.
“I am begging you to pass this,” said Rebecca Pullum, who spoke on behalf of the Starfish Foundation, a nonprofit organization aimed to improve the lives of special needs children.
Pullum said a “lot of thought” had been put into developing the park plan. “The special kids need this. It can’t come quickly enough for them. This equipment also gives them therapy they need,” she said, noting the organization is willing to help fund the effort.
The commissioners plan to revisit funding options for Phase I during the board’s scheduled October meetings.
“This is not the result we wanted,” Williamson said, noting he plans to come back to fellow commissioners for a fourth time regarding the issue.
Future phases of park improvements have been proposed but funding sources have not yet been identified.