County encouraged to use LOST funds for rec fields
Nothing has been decided on how to spend the LOST (Local Option Sales Tax) monies from the proposal that won at the polls last fall. But commissioners are encouraging input from local residents and taxpayers, either in writing or at public forums being held.
Voters approved a half-cent sales tax and now commissioners have to decide how to put that money to the best possible use for the people in all parts of the county who are paying it.
Commissioners and county staff held a public forum for south end residents – Gulf Breeze and Navarre taxpayers – at the Tiger Point Rec Center last week. Between 30 and 35 people showed up to give input.
“This is about 1,000 percent more people than showed up at our first north end meeting,” Commissioner Sam Parker told the crowd. Several in attendance, however, expressed their disappointment and surprise that the crowd was not larger. The meeting was being broadcast live and recorded for later viewing, also.
Residents who attended received a 48-page “Tentative Project List” showing where the county staff recommended some projects that have been on the radar of the county commissioners for some time. However, the cover page read, “There is a need to establish a five-year plan; however, it should not be thought of as the last or only chance to have a need considered for inclusion in the plan.”
In other words, commissioners assured residents that almost anything in that 48-page plan could be changed or withdrawn if local residents of any district preferred a different project.
Commissioner Parker said from what they seemed to be hearing, both in emails and in meetings, from districts at both ends of the county, more recreational facilities are what people are asking for.
County Commissioner Lane Lynchard opened the meeting saying, “This money is a big step for Santa Rosa County. I know we have drainage problems in the south end that need addressing. I also know we need more ball fields in South Santa Rosa County.” Lynchard pointed to the soccer players outside the Rec Center windows filling the Tiger Point Rec Center fields. “Look at those fields and see how many kids are out there. That is about a $150,000 investment, and we need more of that.”
Rob Abbott, one of the residents taking to the microphone to address commissioners, said he had been working with the Tiger Point Rec program for several years.
“We have 500 kids coming out here twice a week, and we are completely out of space here. Last year we also had 300 kids for flag football. And Lacrosse is finally coming to the south end. We could fill up five or six fields just with those kids. We don’t have the room. We need more fields. We have one and a half fields out there – and Pace has 12 fields and Navarre has five.”
He suggested that the empty west course of the Tiger Point Golf Course may be a perfect place for the county to develop more recreational fields for kids.
“With Gulf Breeze City looking like they are not going to re-develop that smaller west course, there may be opportunities there to work something out for recreational needs.”
He said their recreational program would like to have tournaments here, but there is not enough room.
“We cannot have the tournaments Fair Hope or Foley have. We travel all the way to Alabama to attend a tournament, and there are at least 14,000 people there. We are missing a good opportunity here. It is also an economic issue.”
Commissioner Bob Cole said there are fields in the north ed of the county. “That shows the diversity of our county. In East Milton, we have fields and a gymnasium, and I cannot keep a youth sports program going. If any of your programs ever want to use any of those fields for tournaments or any play, they are available,” he said.
Besides recreation, some residents encouraged commissioners to think safety when spending the money.
One man complained, “In this plan I saw money for sheriff cars, but no money for sheriff deputy raises.”
County Commissioner Don Salter explained that the sales tax had limitations set by law on how it could be spent. “It is for capital improvements, and cannot be used for things like salaries,” he explained.
Santa Rosa County Sheriff Bob Johnson presented a request April 4 to commissioners for LOST monies -- enough to cover 110 new vehicles over the next four years at an estimated cost of $30,000 per vehicle.
That is an average, commissioners said, of 28 cars per year. Johnson told commissioners he wants to get back on a four-year rotation of cars, and he doesn’t want to let the cars get more than 120,000 miles on each of them, if possible.
Midway Fire District representatives also requested that the original offer from the county of $1.3 million, to be used by the fire association representing all fire districts in the county, be followed, instead of the most recent amount of just over $350,000 being quoted for the fire districts.
County Chair Rob Williamson said he agreed that the $1.3 million was a “good solid number” that should be used to determine how much the county fire departments get.
“I think that $1.3 million was well thought out and gives each district the chance to get some benefit,” Williamson said.