Okaloosa County Commissioners will ask the state for more than $6 million in grant money for projects around the county they hope will advance economic development. The grant funding was announced last week with a deadline for applications on July 15th – meaning a tight turnaround for county staff to make proposals to the state legislature.
Deputy County Administrator Sheila Fitzpatrick will lead the initiative to get funding for the projects, which vary from an ‘attainable housing strategic plan’ to $1 million to update the facilities at the Baker Area Recreation Association’s equestrian facilities.
Initially, county staff proposed five projects for a total of $4.15 million which would enhance the county’s economic position. The requests would come from a pot of money that totals about $157 million in available funding. Adjusting for Okaloosa County’s proportion of Florida’s population – Okaloosa County would be able to lay claim to about .9% of the total amount of money – or about $1.55 million. The five projects staff recommended for proposal were:
$150,000 to conduct a study for what the county calls an “attainable housing strategic plan.” The county wants to work with an outside consultant to see what, if anything, can be done about the dearth of affordable housing in the Okaloosa County area for working-class people. In the proposal, the county says it will work with community partners like cities, chambers of commerce, non-profits and the Okaloosa County Affordable Housing Advisory Committee on the problem, should it receive the money.
$750,000 to replace old communications center equipment in the Okaloosa County Emergency Operations Center. According to the request, it is time for an upgrade to communications equipment at the hub of emergency response. The Emergency Operations Center, which is housed on the campus of Northwest Florida State College, opened in 2009. The document requesting funding says that the equipment inside the facility is 14 years old – and needs updating.
$750,000 to replace old Emergency Management Equipment. Essentially, the argument for this is the same as for the second funding request. Equipment has aged past its useful life, and the county believes it is time to buy new equipment. They hope to do it with this money.
$1,500,000 for purchasing public beach front. Okaloosa County has partnered with the City of Destin to buy up private land to convert into public beachfront parks. The proposal is to use this money to aid in the demolition of existing homes or buildings on that land in order to make it accessible to the public. Additionally, the money would be used to create parking, pavilions, restrooms, boardwalks, signage and other typical beach park amenities.
$1,000,000 to upgrade the equestrian facilities at the Baker Area Recreation Association complex. Finally, the county wants to ask the state government for one million bucks to update the equestrian center in Baker. Funding, according to the county, would be used “for lighting, fans and other amenities directly related to the arena. According to the county, since the end of COVID-19, the demand for this facility has dramatically increased. They believe these upgrades would help keep up with that demand.
Commissioner Nathan Boyles, the representative on the commission for Niceville, Valparaiso, Western Crestview, Holt, Baker and Eglin Air Force Base, made a request to add a friendly amendment which would include a sixth project to the request. He asked the commission to consider adding a proposal to create infrastructure to allow sewer lines’ extension to the I-10 interchange where it meets Log Lake Road in the unincorporated community of Holt.
He added that he had attempted to get the sixth item on the agenda, but was not able to so. “I had extensive conversations with [Deputy County Administrator Sheila] Fitzgerald about the underlying process. This is not something I have held in my pocket until today. I did my damndest to get it on this flippin agenda, but staff was not willing, given the late timing to get this on the agenda. You perceive it as I have splashed it out here in the middle of a meeting, when in fact this was not the way this has unfolded. I can assure you, I made every effort, given the time constraints, the timing just didn’t work,” said Boyles.
Boyles told the commission he had been in meetings with a company “associated with highway interchanges” that is seriously considering investing in the interchange with a facility which would bring about 130 jobs to the rural community.
He argued that the interchange in Holt is underutilized. The interchange, which he values at about $100 million – a nod to the cost of the Crestview bypass’s interchange. Could bring in many more jobs and other economic activity to the area – if it had connection to county sewer lines.
In all – Boyles asked that a request be prepared and made by county staff to State Representative Patt Maney to the grant funds coordinators in Tallahassee to provide $2 million to help extend the sewer line to the area.
The amendment from Vice Chairman Boyles and the original proposals passed on a 4-1 vote. Commissioner Carolyn Ketchel was the lone dissenter on the dais. She protested her inability to get requests for her district placed on the proposal list, as well as the addition of Vice Chairman Boyles project for sewer lines. “As Ms. Fitzgerald put together this list, there were a number of times when I said, ‘what about this project?’ As you can see, there is nothing in my district. That’s ok because other parts of the county need it. But my projects were not quote ‘shovel ready,’ some of the ones I really wanted to see on this list. So, with that I’m not really going to be able to vote for this, because I don‘t have enough information. I don’t want to vote on something that I don’t understand. So I am going to vote no,” said Ketchel.
We’ll follow along and let you know if the county receives the $6.15M in grant funding they are requesting.