The Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday again formally assumed the point on economic development in the county.
At the recommendation of the board of the Gulf County Economic Development Alliance, Inc. as well as the BOCC appointed EDA advisory committee, the BOCC is back in charge of economic development under a model that has yet to be crafted.
County staff, with input from the EDA board and advisory committee will come back to the BOCC with recommendations on the model.
According to county attorney Jeremy Novak, the board and advisory committee examined several models, with a five-, seven- or nine-member advisory board and a county employee, hired by county administrator Don Butler, to serve as executive director.
Tuesday’s move put an end to the most recent configuration for a county agency addressing economic development.
The EDA was formed just over a year ago after the BOCC had taken back control of economic development during the fall of 2012.
The new model will be the third under which economic development has been handled in the past three years. This is the sixth time since 2002 that the model for economic development has been changed by the BOCC.
Commissioner Joanna Bryan was the lone dissenting vote in taking back operations for economic development.
“I am opposed to taking the designation back,” Bryan said. “It is moving backward and in the wrong direction.
“I do not think the solution is to turn economic development into a county department with a county employee running it.”
The proposal to create an operational model similar to the Tourist Development Council, with an advisory council and an executive director who answers to the BOCC, Bryan said, was misguided.
She said attracting tourists was a completely different animal from attracting businesses to the county.
“The EDA has a good board and we have not supported them or funded them as we should,” Bryan said.
But Commissioner Ward McDaniel said the EDA board was asking the BOCC to take back the economic development function.
The EDA, which has an all-volunteer board of five, has been hamstrung much of the past year due to the absence and ultimate resignation of executive director Barry Sellers due to health issues.
With the BOCC withholding funds due to the uncertainty surrounding the EDA, the EDA board wanted to return the responsibility to the BOCC.
“The board is wanting to put this back under us,” McDaniel said.
In addition to formally taking back economic development, the BOCC also approved the return to the county of some $68,000 in EDA funds and Novak will draft a letter releasing the EDA from its contract with the BOCC.
St. Joseph Shores
Commissioners discussed at some length ongoing stormwater issues in St. Joseph Shores, which have been repeatedly chronicled by this newspaper.
Through a presentation of aerial imagery, Butler highlighted how the home of Betty Price, who has sustained the most influx of water in recent years, was in a low area and the county, while it had a right-of-way through the development, did not own land.
Bryan said she wanted to clarify whether the county had a responsibility and how to address the issues.
“It is very frustrating to have the flooding we are having,” Bryan said. “We have had an inordinate amount of rain. But I do not see where there is anything the county is doing on this property.”
She said the problem was related to Mother Nature or an issue not directly tied to the county.
However, Stan Price, Betty’s son, took issue with several assertions and directly tied the ongoing problems – during recent rain Price had anywhere from 9-15 inches in her backyard and under her home – to the construction of WindMark Beach by the St. Joe Company.
He said the home was built in the 1970s and her mother purchased the home in the early ‘80s. She did not have problems with stormwater, Stan said, until recently.
“(The property) is a hole now that WindMark has been put in,” Stan Price said. “What the county allowed St. Joe to do with their land, and they should have the right to do what they want with their land, was raise the water table.”
He likened it to a wet sponge – as St. Joe developed the property at one end the water flowed to the other, St. Joseph Shores.
Whether the issue was permits or faulty engineering, Stan could not say, but his mother’s home and yard have been transformed into a “muddy mess.”
In addition, Betty Price has lost her flood insurance due to claims in recent years related to the stormwater inundating her property.
Another resident of St. Joseph Shores, Gail Alsobrook, said mosquitoes are more of a constant threat due to the standing water and said the source of concern among homeowners was the parcel of land St. Joe developed for Miraval, which was substantially raised.
Bryan repeated that she did not think the county bore responsibility and said commissioners should be careful with temporary solutions – a pump, for example, when significant rain arrives – due to stormwater issues around the county.
“We need to determine what is the county’s responsibility,” Bryan said. “This is taxpayer money and we have to treat everybody fairly.”
Habitat Conservation Plan
Commissioners heard another round of presentations from companies wishing to serve as technical advisor as the county embarks on crafting a state mandated Habitat Conservation Plan, a plan funded under a grant from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Having heard the top three firms, based on recommendations from a technical advisory committee at the previous meeting and ranking those firms based on presentation, Bryan opposed allowing the two remaining firms to make presentations to commissioners.
She said that would provide an unfair advantage of firms that could view the previous presentations.
Novak said that due some issues in how the advisory committee scored the firms in the initial ranking the BOCC should hear the presentations, at the recommendation of the committee, in order to ensure no later bid protest.
This is the latest of several instances this year that issues with initial ranking or scoring from staff on a bid has resulted in altering the process.