County commissioners discuss how to spend new tax monies

Posted on February 14, 2017 by Romi White

Santa Rosa County Commissioners at a special workshop on Tuesday discussed how to spend new tax revenues, including $35-39 million from the local option sales tax approved by voters last November.
Voters supported the half penny LOST increase for a five-year period to fund capital expenditures for police and fire and infrastructure improvements for flooding, roads, parks and bike paths.
Each of the five commissioners in December appointed two citizens to serve on an oversight committee which was established to ensure money generated by the new tax is actually spent in the “spirit” of the referendum.
During the workshop board members discussed, but did not decide, the role the committee would play in the process of deciding which projects should be funded.
Commissioner Lane Lynchard said he would like for the committee to play an “active” role in picking projects funded by the LOST.
However, other several other commissioners expressed a desire for the committee to instead review a list after projects had been chosen by the board.
Commissioner Bob Cole said the committee could serve in a “quality assurance” capacity — to make sure the board had chosen appropriate projects for LOST funding.
“I don’t want to be at the end. I want to be at the beginning of that process. That’s where we need to be,” said Scott Kemp of Gulf Breeze, Lynchard’s appointee to the LOST oversight committee.
Tamara Fountain of Navarre, another LOST oversight committee member, suggested that instead of selecting projects for funding the group could develop a survey process.
“I love the idea of a survey,” said Commission Chairman Rob Williamson.
The board also discussed a list of projects county staff proposed for LOST funding.
“This plan does not leverage our LOST dollars,” said Lynchard, who expressed concern that the proposed list included drainage projects for which the county has historically received grant funding. “We need to stretch these dollars,” he said, suggesting the county instead use LOST funds for new projects.
Lynchard said residents throughout the county are expecting to see results. “If they don’t see results we are not going to be successful (in getting the tax renewed).”
Commissioner Sam Parker also questioned some of the proposed projects. “Things like putting a new floor in the county auditorium, there’s no way I’m going to agree to that stuff. Address some dangerous intersections or connector roads.”
Cole pointed out that new roofs on the list should already be in the budget. “That’s not new projects we promised out of this LOST. I agree 100 percent with Mr. Lynchard, if we don’t focus on this is something new in five years we can forget (voter renewal).”
The board subsequently asked staff to revise the proposed project list.
“I was really encouraged to hear a couple of things…one is that the spirit isn’t to supplant what was coming out of the general fund,” Fountain said.
Williamson said a revised list will come back before the board at a future meeting before town hall meetings are held in each district to solicit public input regarding the LOST spending.