The Board of County Commissioners relieved one headache for Port St. Joe officials while compounding another.
County commissioners on Tuesday approved offering a home to the Florida Coastal Conservancy for its Forgotten Coast Sea Turtle Center.
And, commissioners further dug in their heels in opposition to the city of Port St. Joe’s pursuit of an extension of its redevelopment agency, hinting that litigation could be in the offing.
The new home for a turtle center, which will be the former public works building adjacent to the St. Joseph Bay Humane Society on 10th Street in Port St. Joe, arrives as discussions with city officials have reached a standstill.
The FLCC established a foothold two years ago in the back portion of the Sleeping Beauty keepers’ quarters adjacent to the Cape San Blas Lighthouse in George Core Park.
The toehold, crucially an address, allowed the FLCC to begin pursuing grant funding for various initiatives and creation of an educational center.
During the past two years, the FLCC has been in discussions with city officials to lease the Eglin keepers’ quarters next to the lighthouse, renovated in the past 18 months, to expand the turtle center.
However, the St. Joseph Historical Society, which has spearheaded various efforts to save the lighthouse over the past several decades, is seeking to restore the lighthouse lens and create a maritime museum in the same space.
Efforts to reach an agreement on a lease which would allow the turtle center to expand until the historical society was ready to move forward have been fruitless.
The topic has consumed significant segments of several city meetings and left all parties frustrated as city officials failed to arrive at a final decision.
Enter County Commissioner David Rich, who said he had talked to FLCC members and all agreed that the former public works building would be a suitable for the FLCC to establish its office and educational center.
“This will be an asset to the community,” Rich said.
A proposed lease, county administrator Michael Hammond suggested two years, will be presented to the BOCC next month.
The BOCC is not likely to stand by idly while the city of Port St. Joe pursues an extension of the redevelopment agency, the original boundaries of which are to expire in the next two years.
The county has already expressed by letter opposition to extending the CRA, but city commissioners have been as adamant that they would pursue a 30-year extension despite the county’s opposition.
“It is important for the county to stop this,” Hammond said. “We are going to be attentive and keep you informed.”
Hammond said extending the CRA would mean taxpayers around the county would be subsidizing the business growth in downtown Port St. Joe.
The extension of the boundary would cost the county $15 million in tax revenue; the county’s portion this year was just under $200,000.
Hammond noted that Bay County put a stop, in court, to plans by several cities to establish redevelopment areas and that he hoped the issue would not end up in a lawsuit.
Bay County currently pays more in CRA money than the budgets of several constitutional offices combined, Hammond said.
Commissioner Ward McDaniel said he would not support any movement that would result in folks in his district, including those on fixed incomes, subsidizing
“millionaires” in Port St. Joe.
The city has taken the stance that the county has no say in moving ahead with an extension of the CRA.
The city has already taken initial steps in a process the city’s attorney has estimated will take about a year.