Republican Party of Santa Rosa County conducts candidate interviews

Posted on July 22, 2020 by Staff reports

The Santa Rosa County Republican Executive Committee met July 13 to hear from candidates running for county commission for Districts 1, 3 and 5.

Two incumbent commissioners and one Republican candidate were invited but did not appear:  current District 1 Commissioner Sam Parker, current District 3 Commissioner Don Salter, and District 3 candidate James Calkins.

Following are the answers to five questions provided by the candidates who did participate: District 1 candidates Stacy Bryan and Geoff Ross; District 3 candidates Ryan Adkins Sr., Jerry Couey and Gage Schlegel; current District 5 Commissioner Lane Lynchard and District 5 candidate Colten Wright. The answers are provided in the rotating order in which they were asked.

QUESTION 1: Would you abide by the obligation of concurrency and be willing to submit to a two-year, five-year, 10-year plan to the public and regularly evaluate compliance?   (For the candidate running for reelection, what have you done to be compliant with concurrency?)                                                        

Ryan Adkins (District 3): Yes, I would. I would be able, I would do that. Whatever the people want, I’m willing to do.

Jerry Couey (District 3): I think it’s necessary. You have to look at it from this standpoint. You can widen a road, but if you don’t have concurrency in place, then you’re just going to have more problems down the road. You get too many houses on the road. I mean, look at Woodbine right now, I think it’s “D” or an “F” service right now. And many counties in the State of Florida have concurrency in their Land Development Code. We don’t. Neither does Escambia County. And I think it’s an important tool. But, I mean, a lot of this is about quality of life. You look at the, oh, man, Navarre, Woodbine, West Spencer Field, it’s problems now. So, yes, I would be in favor of that.

Geoff Ross (District 1): There’s about 80 percent of the State of Florida out of 67 counties that operate with the concurrency law, which I believe is legislated through the Florida Legislature. They’re the ones that put, the concurrency plans are put in place by those folks to ensure that we manage our growth properly. So putting in a two-year, five-year, 10-year, 50-year plan would be a good idea and I would enforce it through the Florida Legislature. I’m sure there’s a Florida statute in place that pertains to that, and I would look at, read that Florida statute and follow that Florida statute. As a county commissioner, I’m just not going to make stuff up as I go and say OK, we’re going to do this. I’m going to read the Florida statutes and follow the regulations that are put in place by our Legislature in Tallahassee. So do I support that? Yes, I do. Because it’s put in place for a reason: To help manage growth.

Colten Wright (District 5): Yeah. I think that’s been part of our problem is we haven’t had good planning. And I think we need to continue to — we need to improve the planning we are doing and we need to create a plan for not just two, five, 10 years, I mean, we need to have a 20- and 30-year plan we can actually stick to, knowing it’s going to change from time to time. But we definitely need to do a better job of planning in this county.

Lane Lynchard (District 5): We follow the Land Development Code. We have a Comprehensive Plan that is updated on a regular basis. We identify those roads and segments that are failing or in danger of failing. As a board we need to, and as a county, we need to support improvements in our infrastructure. The biggest infrastructure project on the table right now is a state project, but it’s in my district. We have been pushing for capacity increases on Highway 98. That project is fully funded in this year’s FDOT Work Plan. The project should kick off before the end of the year. That will six lane Highway 98 from Naval Live Oaks down to Portside Drive in Tiger Point. A lot of people don’t know Highway 98 in Gulf Breeze carries more traffic than Interstate 10 in Santa Rosa County. So that is a capacity project that is long overdue and will hopefully bring a tremendous amount of relief to the south end of the county.

Stacy Bryan (District 1): Oh, absolutely. I mean, that’s how we have fallen down on concurrency right now. If you look at — and to me, concurrency doesn’t mean building a road. It means building sidewalks, bike paths, all the things, street lamps, all the things that we need for those communities to take and be a community that people want to live in. So if we’re just building houses and not — and I’ll admit it right now, I am for impact fees because we have to have another way to pay for this. Last year we’ve already lost a chance of the LOST sales tax going through. I think we’re at risk of losing it in November as well because people are just kind of tired of the way things are being done now. So unless we have a plan of concurrency and say yes, we’re going to do these things and show where that money’s being spent and how it’s being spent responsibly, then we’re going to be at risk of losing part of that budget money as well.

 Gage Schlegel (District 3): I would have to look into that a little more before I could answer that.

QUESTION 2: Are you for or against impact fees?

Ryan Adkins (District 3): When I first started I was not for any impact or any fees period.  But after I looked at it and did more digging and getting into it, I really decided that there is a lot of impacts going on with all the building and they need to pay their fair share.  That just needs to happen.  And whether they’re going to pass it on and all this other stuff, so be it.  But if they’re not selling homes they’re going to have to lower prices anyway on the home.  We all know how everything works.  You know, if you’re not moving something, you’ve got to lower the price to sell.  So yes I’m for impact fees.  They won’t pay everything that we need but they will help.  Every little bit will help.  I’ll pinch pennies. I am for them, but I want to qualify.  I don’t like the methodology that’s currently being used.  It’s currently being set up that a house, no matter what goes on there, is a fixed amount.  And I don’t agree with that.  We have six counties in the State of Florida now that does an impact fee on a cost per square foot.  So, and the reason that I feel this way, is because we will lose affordable housing in Santa Rosa County.  If you take the five that the school board is trying to get right now, if the county adds three more to it that’s eight.  If you’re in the Pace Water District, that’s $16,000 before you even build a house. We live in a capitalistic society.  That builder is not going to build a 1,400-square-foot house, because even though he’s passing that cost on, he will no longer be able to be in the affordable house market.  But as I said earlier, I know there’s a big push right now that developers, I think there’s a portion of this infrastructure they need to pay for.  Absolutely.  We have to pay our portion too.  And, you know, I think it’s a balance.  But in answer to your question:  Yes, I would just rather it be a cost per square foot. 

Geoff Ross (District 1): I’m in support of a minimal impact fee based on square footage of the house that’s purchased or in the subdivision.  And this is as per Florida statutes, you know?  There are laws in place in Tallahassee that basically say, you know, impact fees are beneficial for helping so long as those impact fees benefit the citizen buying that house or buying into that subdivision, and as long as it’s based on square footage of the house. You know, you don’t want to put a $5,000 impact fee on a new couple trying to buy a mobile home.  You know?  You buy a $60,000 mobile home, why do you want to slap a $5,000 impact fee on the back of that? That’s crazy.  You may put that person out of there; it may make it impossible for them to get the loan on the mobile home.  But do it on square footage.  If you buy an 8,000-square-foot home in Gulf Breeze, oh, great.  Good on you.  But you’re going to have a higher impact fee than somebody that buys a 1,200-square-foot home in, let’s say, Pace.  You know.  If you buy an $80,000 BMW, you’re not going to pay the same tax on it as if you bought an $8,000 Kia, going back to my car days.  So yeah, I support impact fees as long as they’re based on square footage and they’re not going to be a massive cap, you know.  How would you say, what’s the word I’m thinking of, a flat fee?  Instead of a flat fee, let’s have a fee, based on the size and the cost of the home being built.

Colten Wright (District 5): I am for reasonable impact fees.

 Lane Lynchard (District 5): I support a reasonable impact fee. The growth that our county has seen over the past 10 years especially, I think justifies the imposition of a reasonable impact fee. Again, we want to keep our millage rate as low as possible. We do have to have a way for growth to pay for growth. My board implemented the education impact fees at the request of the school board earlier this year. That’s been challenged by the Home Builder’s Association in court. We’ve completed a study on impact fees for transportation and law enforcement. I suspect we will implement that at our meeting in August.

Stacy Bryan (District 1): I am absolutely for impact fees. Because if you have new growth coming in, you have to be able to pay for that new growth. Right now our tax rolls do not accommodate enough new growth, and that’s why we’ve seen the infrastructure failures that we’ve had. I’m a firm believer that if you are 80 years old and you paid off your property 30 years ago, I don’t want to see your taxes on your property go up. And that’s the other source of income that we would have, and it’s not fair to those people that have already paid enough.  So let’s spread it out, you know. We look at the LOST fund, we know where that money comes from. We look at the new growth fund, which would be impact fees, and know where that money comes from. And it is spread out among everybody and not just burdensome to the people that have already paid in for 50 years.

Gage Schlegel (District 3): I am for it. Moderator:  But you’re actually for a hybrid of impact fees and a raising of the sales tax, provided the county agrees to it, the voters?  Mr. Schlegel:  Yes, sir.

Jerry Couey (District 3): “I am for them, but I want to qualify. I don’t like the methodology that’s currently being used. It’s currently being set up that a house, no matter what goes on there, is a fixed amount. And I don’t agree with that. We have six counties in the State of Florida now that does an impact fee on a cost per square foot. So, and the reason that I feel this way is because we will lose affordable housing in Santa Rosa County. If you take the five that the school board is trying to get right now, if the county adds three more to it that’s eight. If you’re in the Pace Water District, that’s $16,000 before you even build a house. We live in a capitalistic society. That builder is not going to build a 1400 square foot house, because even though he’s passing that cost on he will no longer be able to be in the affordable house market. But as I said earlier, I know there’s a big push right now that developers, I think there’s a portion of this infrastructure they need to pay for. Absolutely. We have to pay our portion too. And, you know, I think it’s a balance. But in answer to your question: Yes, I would just rather it be a cost per square foot.”

QUESTION 3: What are your “hot-button” issues you want to tackle once you’re in office?

Ryan Adkins (District 3): Public safety.  Safety is always going to be at the forefront of anything.  Public safety is going to be big for me.  Infrastructure is definitely going to be something else I’ve got to tackle, infrastructure.  And also jobs.  We need to get jobs here.  There’s not the jobs here for the amount of people that we’ve got, especially good-paying jobs.  And also the concurrency management needs to be adhered to here, plus complying with laws, ordinances, codes; all that has to be done.  Because I’m stickler for by the book, and if we don’t agree with something then we can have it changed; but as long as it’s on the books it needs to be adhered to and followed.  That’s what I’m about, right.  About doing what’s right always.

Jerry Couey (District 3): Well, I think county  commissioners should focus on two things, and that’s public safety and infrastructure.  We’re heading in a lot of the right directions on public safety, so my focus is going to be on infrastructure.  We have an ever-increasing budget, but it all goes into the general fund and there’s too many hands that are reaching into the general fund.  The first time I looked at a budget was 1990, and the total budget for Santa Rosa County was $11 million, and this year it’s $178 million.  And have you seen any great improvements in our transportation corridors?  We still have flooding, we still have roads that need to be resurfaced.  It’s because we’re not focused on that.  This year alone, our budget is going up $5 million, $1 million from increased property taxes and $4 million worth of new homes that are coming on the tax rolls.  I want to take 100 percent of that $5 million and put it in the infrastructure fund and start building the budget for the road department.  Because roads, ditches, and drainage, that is what the citizens are focused on and that’s going to be my focus.

Geoff Ross (District 1): Hot button issues can cover a variety of avenues from the sheriff’s department to animal control to infrastructure to flooding.  Which specific area would you like me to talk about?  My choice?  Moderator:  The ones that get you hot.  Mr. Ross:  My choice what gets me irritated?  Moderator:  Yes.  What are your hot-button issues?  Mr. Ross:   Traffic congestion gets me irritated.  I believe that we can fix traffic congestion, but not with a four-laning of Woodbine.  If you take a look at the Los Angeles highways in California, they went from 4 lane to 8 lane to 12 lane; didn’t solve the traffic congestion problem.  But I do believe that if you open up the bottleneck from Woodbine to 90, through Floridatown, put another bridge in from Floridatown across to Pensacola, that gives us two bridges to get to Pensacola.  Instead of jamming up Woodbine Road, let’s instead of doing that, let’s open up the bottleneck on 90 and free up the traffic problems down there that way.  So that’s a hot-button item is traffic congestion.  I’ve gone to a lot of homes all over the county, especially in Navarre, in Milton, Pace, Pea Ridge regarding flooding.  People’s back yards are flooding.  We’re building a subdivision up, we’re putting in a subdivision over here and then all of a sudden, this house over here is full of backwater.  So we’re having problems there.  So that would be a hot-button issue.  How do we fix the flooding in people’s backyards because of subdivision development?  Now I am not against building, I’m not against developers, but I am for protecting citizens’ property rights.

Colten Wright (District 5): We need to make sure we plan and manage our growth better. We have a good 30 years’ worth of failing infrastructure and roads that we need to get under control. So that’s my number one priority. Secondly, would be to continue to fund public safety and to do more to do that for the sheriff’s department. I’d help the fire departments and encourage more economic development in our area.

Lane Lynchard (District 5): For the coming years, what I see personally for me, I’ve been working on the Restore Act for 10 years now. I’ve been working on Restore since it was being drafted, and was actually part of the team from some of the counties in the Panhandle that went up to Washington to convince our Congress, members of Congress and senators to take up the bill and ultimately get it passed. The time since then has been spent working through a process that’s never been implemented before. And it has taken a long time, developing treasury regulations and state and federal processes to ultimately be able to take down the grant money and spend the Restore Act funds. And now we are in the middle of that process. We are getting really to the heart of Restore, and I see the next few years as pivotal. We will get about a total of about $27 million in our local component and $13 million in the state expenditure plan that’s administered by the Gulf Consortium. I’m a member of the consortium. I also serve on their finance and audit committee. So the Restore Act is probably the single biggest thing that I see myself working on.  I’m also hoping to build a soccer complex in the south end of the county near Pensacola State College. I worked with the college to secure a lease on property on the campus of Pensacola State College down there in exchange for some property in our industrial park that we allowed them to use.

Stacy Bryan (District 1): Well, the first thing is transparency in government. A lot of the decisions we’re making right now, a lot of people are asking the same thing, how did we come to that decision? There’s a miscommunication between the government level and the citizens on what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. So if you ask people why was the courthouse moved to Avalon, probably only about a handful of people in this room could tell you the reason why. Although we all know that we need a new courthouse. So that transparency and being able to communicate to everyone to say, hey, look, these are the decisions that we’re making and these are the reason why. And then when you add in the infrastructure that we’ve seen, and actually, we’ve seen more in infrastructure in the last three months than we have the whole three-and-a-half years before.

Gage Schlegel (District 3): Definitely traffic would be one, infrastructure, Woodbine Road, the Spencer Fields. Those are definitely, they definitely need some fixing. Drainage, there is a lot of drainage issues now that all the growth has come.  And I’m not against the growth, I’m for the growth, but I think our infrastructure should be in place before the growth happens.

QUESTION 4: Tell us about this life-changing pivotal moment that you determined to run for office.

Ryan Adkins (District 3): I wouldn’t say it was really life-changing.  I grew up here, retired from the Navy, moved back home.  I didn’t like the way things have been going, what I’ve been seeing.  I’ve been here for five years now.  We moved back in ’15 after retiring.  I tried to be the county administrator, couldn’t get in there, so then I said, “Let me see if I can get in there and try to fix things this way.”  So that’s what I’m doing.  So if I can make things better and help the people, that’s all I care about doing.  That’s why I’m running.

Jerry Couey (District 3): So a little thing happened last year called a sales tax, which I thought was completely out of line.  And I was OK with the half-cent sales tax, but I just couldn’t agree to a full penny.  So as you all know, the blue truck with the yellow sign in the back, No New Taxes, and I worked all over the place.  And really, the pivotal moment for me was when that vote came in at a 67 to 33 defeat.  My phone started ringing and support started pouring in and instant messages started coming in and people said repeatedly, “How about just cutting out the middleman and you run to be a county commissioner?”  So I listened for about three weeks after the vote in October, and I felt like there was enough support out there that it would be worth the effort.  So that’s what put me in here.

Geoff Ross (District 1): When I was told that we needed a judicial tax to raise revenue for a $50 million courthouse, and being a budget guy in the Navy, I ran the numbers and realized that we do not need to budget — a judicial tax, totally unnecessary.  And when I approached the incumbent that’s currently sitting in the District 1 seat about his judicial tax and mentioned that to him, his response to me was that he’s going hunting up in Alabama or some place; sent me an email that he has to go hunting and wouldn’t discuss the subject.  So said, OK.  Well, I found a bunch of money in the general fund which would fund the cost of the courthouse, even though I don’t believe we need to spend $50 million for a courthouse; we could probably do it for $35 million like Okaloosa County did.  That was the moment that I decided that I was going to run for office, because I can’t change it from sitting in my house; I can only change it from sitting in the seat in Milton.  I’m a conservative fiscal Republican, which means I won’t raise your taxes.  I do not support raising taxes.  I do not believe that we are broke.  I do not believe that this county is in any trouble financially.  But do I believe that we have a tax and spend problem in Santa Rosa County?  We do not have a tax-revenue-collection problem, we have a tax-and-spend problem.

Colten Wright (District 5): As far as one pivotal moment, I would have to say when the County Commission, current County Commission shelved the District 4 Master Plan. That was definitely a moment.

Lane Lynchard (District 5): OK. I actually decided I wanted to run for office in 2006. I was building my law firm in Navarre. That was the first time I had built anything, and got to the end of the construction process, about nine months or so, and this was a Friday and I had already moved all my furniture in. I was supposed to open for business on Monday, and called for my final inspection and passed everything but the landscape inspection. And I was failed because I had 43 trees surrounding my building instead of 45. And I thought well, this is a horrible way to invite businesses to Santa Rosa County. And I thought we needed to make it easier for businesses and for people who wanted to invest in our community.

Stacy Bryan (District 1): You guys don’t have that kind of time. But I will. So my wife and I run a nonprofit, and we had spoken to some of our current county commissioners about helping special-needs kids and using some county property to take and start this nonprofit. And the first time I met our District 1 county commissioner, he spent the whole 15 minutes of our meeting talking about himself instead of what we were there to talk about. And that’s when I said, “You know, it has to be something else out there.” And then the more that I talked to other people, they had run into the same things. And I thought, you know, we really do need a commissioner that’s going to listen to the people. And, you know, my 15 minutes were wasted right there. And that was the initial moment that I said that we could do something else or that we could do better.

Gage Schlegel (District 3): I was just getting fed up with what the current commissioners have been doing. I had sat there and watched what they did, attended a couple meetings, and just felt like our voice wasn’t being heard. So I finally got fed up with it and threw my name in the hat.

QUESTION 5: The service industry has suffered due to disasters and COVID.  How would you encourage different types of industry and jobs, and/or jobs, to come to Santa Rosa County in the next two, five, and 10 years?

 Ryan Adkins (District 3): I’ve been thinking a lot about that, and I believe we would have to offer some kind of a tax-break incentive to get, to entice more businesses here; otherwise I just don’t see how we’re going to be able to get them here and bring the jobs. ‘Cause we’re definitely going to be in a bind for a while.  And to fix this infrastructure and all the other problems that we have, it’s going to take some money and time.

 Jerry Couey (District 3): Well, first of all, I intend on being very hands on with our economic development folks.  I know Shannon very well.  We have a lot of discussions about economic development.  I will tell you that I think government doesn’t create jobs, government gets in the way of jobs coming in.  We’ve got to make sure, there’s some rules and regulations and some things that we have done to even businesses in our county today that shouldn’t have ever happened. So we have to make sure that we have a level and fair playing field, that we don’t have ordinances and things that slow that down.

 Geoff Ross (District 1): Well, deregulation would be my first choice.  You know, there’s a lot of businesses here that try to come here and set up shop, but they can’t because there’s a lot of rules and regulations in place which are preventing them from doing that.  For example, there was a distribution company for Ace Hardware that tried to set up at the Industrial Park near Peter Prince Air Field, but because of the red tape and the bureaucracy and the ridiculous rules that were put in place, they decided to opt out of Santa Rosa County and instead they set up shop in Alabama.  So I took a look at those regulations and rules that were put in place and I could see that we could probably deregulate some of those rules, which will attract small business here.  That’s just an example.  Another example was there was a restaurant that wanted to set up shop in Pace.  And when they got the bill for the tap fee, they decided not to do that.  They said we’re not going to put our restaurant here because the tap fee is too high.  You know, quit trying to raise our taxes, you know.  I’m not blaming you guys, you’re Republicans, you don’t raise taxes.  But there’s folks who are in the Republican Party that keep trying to raise our taxes, which is going to shun small business away.  You know.  You don’t grow a county by raising taxes, or grow a county’s wealth.  You grow a county’s wealth by lowering taxes and bringing small business here.  And those were two examples that I gave, you know, the restaurant and the Ace Hardware distribution center.  The industrial park can be expanded, by the way.  We need to get Shannon Ogletree on that.  He could be calling companies up in California and New York and Illinois and saying, you know, “I know you’re taxed to the hilt in those counties, come to Florida, come to Santa Rosa County, we will give you a better deal.”  And I’ve been working deals for years in the auto industry, so I’m pretty — you know, pretty sure I can help Shane work with that.  A very interesting fact is, the U.S. Chamber Commerce will tell you that 85 percent of all new jobs come from a business that’s less than five years old.  So I don’t want to forget about maybe getting that big company from another state, but I want us to focus on the businesses that are here in Santa Rosa County first.  We’re actually starting to see a little bit of shift in that some dollars are available for smaller companies, and that’s something we certainly need to look at.  But our unemployment pre-COVID was much better than the two neighboring counties.  I just want to add to that by working to make sure that the businesses that we have in Santa Rosa County feel like they’re loved, wanted and supported.

Colten Wright (District 5): Well, a strong economy is a diverse economy. You know, we have a strong military economy in our area, but we also have a lot of service and tourism as well. I think we need to continue to focus on more with the technical side of things. I think we need to look at trying to do a vo-tech school in the south end of the county. I think we also need to work with some of the local colleges and see if we can do something to create more high-paying jobs in the south end, with bringing some of the media companies in. We have redundancy with Cox Media right now up and down the peninsula on the Highway 98 corridor, and will shortly have that coming down 87. So we’ll have triple redundancy throughout in the Navarre and south end of the county. I think that gives us the ability to bring in some technical firms, because they’re really going to like the fact that they have that redundancy down there.

 Lane Lynchard (District 5): I would keep my foot on the gas when it comes to economic development. We are continuing to see expansion in our industrial parks. Last week we announced three companies coming to the Industrial Park East, a powder coating company, a C and C company, and a manufacturer of renewable energy components. Leonardo is coming to Whiting Aviation Industrial Park. That’s a $25 million investment.  They will be the first tenant out there at the Whiting Industrial Park. That’s a huge economic driver for the county. Santa Rosa County over the last decade, we’ve seen our household income grow by 22 percent.  The State of Florida has grown by 12 percent. So our economy is moving in the right direction. Our jobs are moving in the right direction. We’re attracting those higher-paying jobs to Santa Rosa County. And again, I think we need to keep our foot on the gas, keep recruiting those businesses in desired industry, trying to diversify our economy, more aviation, more manufacturing, and not rely on the service industry.  If you see during the initial 60 days of the shutdown, our unemployment rate did not increase as much as most of our surrounding counties. And we have, again, a diverse economy, we’re not as reliant on the service industry, the hospitality industry, as those around us.

Stacy Bryan (District 1): So that goes back to infrastructure. We’ve got to be able to have the infrastructure to support those jobs. The second thing, and if you’ll talk to a lot of people who are moving here and you ask them why did you move here, and they go, well, quality of life, schools, and low cost of living. So we’ve got to be able to keep all three of those things. So we’ve got to make sure that we can provide the infrastructure. We’ve got to make sure that we’re working with our school board and our school superintendent, to make sure that if we’re approving a thousand homes in one area that we’re not overburdening the school already. Make sure that they have a plan to replace the school, add to the school, or at least rezone to meet the needs of the school and the people moving in.

 Gage Schlegel (District 3): I would work with our development, economic development director, and just point out, you know, how close we have railroads, how close we’ve got the Interstate to us and all the opportunities they would have if they came to the county for job growth and just for them to get into that market.

About the Republican Party of Santa Rosa

The Santa Rosa County Republican Executive Committee monthly meeting takes place on the third Thursday of each month at Grover T’s, located at 5887 Highway 90 in Milton.  A meet and greet and Dutch-treat dinner begins at 5:30 p.m.  The meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. Seating is currently limited due to COVID-19. 

The SRC-REC is a political organization and conducts the business of the local Republican Party.  Its members are elected precinct committeemen and committeewomen charged to promote the election of Republican candidates.  For more information, contact Chairwoman Mary Golden (850) 626-0134 or Treasurer David Farrow (850) 781-3980.