Santa isn’t the only one getting lists this time of year.
The Okaloosa County Commission finalized their list of asks for legislators in Tallahassee for their upcoming session in the new year.
On the top of the list – agreed on by all – was a request to extend the population cap on a law that allows Okaloosa and two other counties to use up to 10% of their tourism tax revenues on public safety spending.
This money, which totals about $3 million every year, will no longer be available for use by the county to fund the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, EMS and Beach Safety once the county hits a certain population threshold – which is estimated to take place in 2025.
Once that happens, the commission would be forced to use money they set aside for other projects like flood prevention, road building and other needs in order to fund the first responders who police and protect the beaches in Destin and on Okaloosa Island. Commissioners voted unanimously to make it their priority for area state representatives and senators in next year’s legislative session. While the commission certainly can’t tell the members of state government what to do – sending their priorities to state legislatures is a commonly-accepted way for local government officials to let state government officials know what they need in order to keep constituents of both groups happy.
Suffice it to say, the Mid-Bay Bridge Authority has taken it on the chin in the last year. Now, it’s the commission (minus Commissioner Boyles) who say they want no more to do with the Authority.
While the motion to make the request to raise the cap on tourism money for public safety costs the number one present on the gift list – it had to be split out from the rest of the requests.
That’s because of noted Mid-Bay Bridge Critic Commissioner Nathan Boyles’s protestations about a request for the Mid Bay Bridge.
We’ll be clear, Boyles is just critical of how the bridge is operated and overseen. He’s fine with a quicker option to get to Destin than driving through Fort Walton Beach.
Anyway, according to the requested document put together by county staff, Okaloosa County would formally ask the State Government to remove the oversight powers that the County has over the Mid-Bay Bridge Authority (MBBA). The commission, with its 4-1 vote, is asking the state government to make the MBBA completely independent from the commission, which currently has veto power over its budget. Boyles, as you might have guessed, was the lone dissenter.
“I will note my staunch opposition to this item,” Boyles told his fellow commissioners, “I can understand why [the Mid-Bay Bridge Authority] would not want to be subject to any oversight from us, and yet, that defeats the point.”
You might remember from earlier this year that Commissioner Boyles has a bone to pick with the Authority. He even has a plan to end the tolls on the bridge.
His protestations about the Bridge’s advertising line item ended in the rejection of the bridge budget in 2022. It left the Bridge Authority and County Attorneys looking through lawbooks to figure out what would happen next.
Boyles is on record as being in favor of either dissolving the Authority and reverting the authority to the state or to the county. According to Boyles, who has been a County Commissioner for a decade and has a license to practice law, the county or the state would have to pay off the debt on the bridge to essentially buy out the private part of the public-private partnership. The County could raise the money itself (not likely, considering the total amount of debt is something like ½ the county’s yearly operating budget) or it could successfully lobby for the state government to add paying off the bridge into the state’s yearly budget. That would require approval by the legislature in Tallahassee and the governor’s signature.
Either way, Boyles battle with the bridge continues.
The representatives from the area will more than likely meet in January in order to go over local governments requests and hash out their own desires.
The 2023 legislative session takes place in March.