Navarre Beach Pier operators say the county owes them money

Posted on March 7, 2016 by Louis Cooper

Santa Rosa County and the contractor that runs the Navarre Beach Pier are at odds over who owes whom money.

The county maintains that the Coastal Concessions owes taxpayers $45,653.95 in unpaid pier admission collections, fines and other fees. While Coastal Concessions says the county owes it more than $143,000 in unexpected start-up costs.

On Nov. 17, 2015, County Attorney Roy Andrews sent a letter to Coastal Concessions saying the company was in breach of its contract by failing to remit admission fees, fines and other expenses.

In January, the commission agreed to consider expenses Coastal Concessions incurred when they began operating the pier in January 2014 to offset the $45,653.95 the county says the company owes.

However, Scott Rayner, managing member of Coastal Concessions, says his company had more than $163,000 in unanticipated expenditures like an oven hood, sinks, flooring and wall materials, among other basic facility components.

Rayner said he feels like he was misled as to what would be included at the facility when he responded to the county’s 2013 Request for Proposals to run the pier and its associated store and bar and grill.

“The RFP said we were going to use existing infrastructure. When we walked in there in Jan. 1, (2014,) the existing infrastructure wasn’t there,” Rayner told commissioners at Monday’s committee meeting. “We’re just asking for what’s fair, and move on.”

However, County Administrator Tony Gomillion said he could only justify $4,622.66 that Coastal Concession paid for a walk-in cooler and $3,961.71 the company paid to install a bar.

“My bigger concern is what is considered fixtures,” Gomillion said. “Tables and chairs are not fixtures. The bar was clearly tied down. The walk-in cooler was clearly tied down. They were part of the structure.”

Commissioners were concerned that this issue was not raised sooner since the contract is now more than two years old.

“There was a period of time when this equipment was coming out of that building (before your contract took effect),” Commissioner Bob Cole said. “You had time to view that before Jan. 1. That was your business decision to move forward. There shouldn’t be a penalty to the citizens of Santa Rosa County.”

Commissioners asked Gomillion to work with Coastal Concessions this week to try to come back with a further compromise at Thursday’s meeting, set for 9 a.m. at the Santa Rosa County Administrative Office Complex, located at 6495 U.S. 90 (behind McDonald’s).

Commissioners also heard a revision of the proposed rates for the Municipal Services Benefits Unit for property owners on the beach to help pay for the planned renourishment project.  The formula was retooled to account for a hotel that is currently under construction on the beach, as well as two single-family homes that have also been issued building permits.

Under the new formula, beach property owners will pay $203 to $511 annually, depending on where their property is and the calculated benefit those properties will receive from the renourishment.

Commissioners will hold a public hearing on adopting the MSBU at 9:30 a.m. during Thursday’s meeting.

Robert Coley, Navarre Beach resident, reiterated some beach residents’ long-held desire to have their MSBU assessments offset by the lease fees they pay.

“Where do y’all stand at looking at using previous lease fees in this formula,” Coley asked.

Commissioner Lane Lynchard: “Our vote Thursday will be to adopt the MSBU rate study and the rates proposed… The approach that the board has taken to date … is that the county will contribute 50 percent of the local share.”

Coley: “So, the request from the leaseholders is not even going to be considered? … That was in your original plan … before it was well known that lease fees have contributed well over $8 million.”

County Budget Director Jayne Bell said there is $450,000 from lease fees in an account of about $8.4 million in reserves that are required by the state for the project.

In another matter, Commissioner Rob Williams asked the board to discuss freeing property on Navarre Beach that is currently zoned conservation/recreation to be developed.

The county’s Comprehensive Plan requires that 34 percent of property on Navarre Beach be held for conservation/recreation. However, Williamson said 40 percent of beach property is currently zoned as such. That’s about 45 acres more than required.

Williamson said he is concerned that the current location for the Marine Science Station and the proposed Discovery Center are in flood zones and may not be insurable.

“I am in no way saying I want to rezone … so we can build more condos or turn it into another Destin or anything of that nature,” Williamson said. “I am specifically asking the board if there are any properties that are currently zoned conservation/recreation that would be considered valuable or beneficial to rezone to another use.”

Cole, however, said any change in zoning on the beach could jeopardize fee simple title legislation currently moving through Congress. In that case, Williamson agreed to leave zoning as it is now.