To fracture a familiar adage the road of good intentions can sometimes contain potholes.
The Board of County Commissioners addressed one during Tuesday’s regular bi-monthly when commissioners unanimously approved rescinding the 7-day, or temporary, beach driving permit as of July 1.
Commissioners had put the temporary permit in place last year as they raised the cost of the annual beach driving permit, an effort, as stated at the time, to provide a revenue-generator for short-stay visitors who did not want to put out $200 to drive on the beach.
However, Commissioner Warren Yeager noted, the weeklong permit has had the unintended consequence of putting drivers unfamiliar with local beaches on the beach.
The result has been complaints of excessive speeds, heavy traffic and most especially deep rutting of the beach.
“The 7-day permit is causing some issues,” Yeager said. “I think it puts people on the beach who don’t know how to drive on that sand.”
Yeager motioned and commissioners agreed to rescind that portion of the beach driving ordinance with an effective date of July 1.
In addition, commissioners also doubled the fine for violators of the beach driving rules.
Jennifer Jenkins, executive director of the Gulf County Tourism Development Council, said one issue is that with the cost of the annual permit now nearly equals the fine levied for violations of driving regulations – the permit is $200, the fine $250 – so drivers were willing to risk a fine to save $200.
Yeager motioned to double the fine to $500, which was unanimously passed, with an effective date of July 1.
“That at least gets people buying the permits,” Yeager said.
Jenkins added, “It makes more sense. It also helps us keep control of the traffic on that beach.”
On the issue of beach driving, commissioners also agreed to a one-year “right of entry” agreement with Eglin Air Force Base concerning the beach along the base’s property.
The agreement requires the county to maintain the beach and increase signage pertaining to proper driving and areas prohibited to motorists and to assume the responsibility of the gate that allows drivers onto the area.
The driving hours will be 9 a.m. until sunset and driving along the stretch where the Cape San Blas Lighthouse stood is off limits.
In addition, all pets will be banned from the beach along Air Force property, a new requirement.
Eglin officials will review the agreement in a year as a step toward a five-year agreement.
Bed tax increase
Commissioners also decided to move ahead with the process of implementing, not until at least 2015, an additional penny to the county bed tax.
The county currently collects four cents, three for basic operations and marketing of the TDC and one for beach nourishment.
The additional cent would fund a long-sought recreational complex in the county near the Gulf/Franklin Center on the opposite side of U.S. Highway 98.
The St. Joe Company, as part of the process of bringing the WindMark Beach development to fruition, deeded some 100 acres to the county and city of Port St. Joe for a recreational complex.
Within a year or so of the donation, however, the real estate market cratered along with property values, constraining the budgets of local governments.
The city and county, which had each pledged at least $600,000 to the complex as part of an interlocal agreement, found funding the complex increasingly out of reach and within the past three years have agreed to indemnify each party from the project.
Research had indicated that assessing an extra penny in bed tax – a single penny currently brings in roughly $220,000 – to provide the money to fund a recreational complex would be proper use of those public funds.
In addition, a recreational complex, with softball, baseball and soccer fields, could be a significant revenue generator.
At the last regular meeting of the TDC advisory board Jenkins noted that recreational sports provide $4 million in revenue to the Bay County TDC.
With a complex in Honeyville that could be expanded, county commissioners and the TDC are examining the potential to the county of bolstering the marketing of the county as a destination for sports tournaments year round.
“We need to put in motion the process to implement the one cent,” Yeager said. “It will take some time to go through it but I think we should move ahead.”
The Tallahassee attorney who has been examining the county’s demographics, recent action by the U.S. Supreme Court in voting rights cases and providing recommendations on countywide voting will be at the next regular meeting, June 24, to provide a presentation on the issue to commissioners.
County Veterans Service Officer Joe Paul told commissioners that given all the media attention regarding wait times at VA medical facilities the situation was much better for local veterans.
He said the Jacksonville-based regional VA system had brought wait times for primary care visits to less than five days and wait times for veterans seeking mental health assistance has been reduced to less than two days.