During the Port St. Joe city commission meeting on Tuesday commissioners unanimously approved a temporary lease of the Cape San Blas Lighthouse, now located in George Core Park, to the St. Joseph Historical Society for $1 dollar.
Though there were questions about the lease, which controlled the lighthouse, keepers’ quarters and Maddox House for five years, the board recognized the importance of having the structure open during the Florida Scallop and Music Festival next weekend to allow visitors to the city to enjoy the lighthouse as part of the festivities.
Mayor Mel Magidson had concerns regarding operation of the lighthouse when it came to paying potential employees and where the funds raised from paying lighthouse visitors would go.
“We have to come up with some management method to operate it,” said Magidson.”If (the lighthouse) does produce excess funds, they need to be used for beautification and upkeep of the grounds.
“Because of the funds expended to get it here, we need an agreement for any excess funds.”
While Magidson focused on the issue of excess funds, St. Joseph Historical Society President Charlotte Pierce said excess funds had never been an issue.
Magidson replied that he hoped it will be a problem with the lighthouse’s new location.
“We need a plan for what we want to do in the future,” Magidson said. “Right now, we need to get that thing open and people up and down it.”
City attorney Tom Gibson warned commissioners to protect themselves legally in case someone were to fall while on the park premises but Magidson acknowledged that an insurance policy was already in place.
Pierce told commissioners that the lease is the same as the one approved for the Maddox House property from which the lighthouse gift shop currently operates.
Commissioner Rex Buzzett asked the agreement to be reworked to factor in hours of operation and any expenses the property may incur.
Commissioner Phil McCroan agreed on the importance of having economic development be factored into the agreement.
“I’m 100 percent for leasing the lighthouse to the historical society,” Buzzett said. “I think we need to.”
Until details of a permanent lease are finalized, the commission granted the historical society the temporary lease with hours of operation for the structure at the group’s discretion.
Gibson said that during the Scallop Festival the keepers’ quarters would need to be fenced off as they are not yet secure.
“We’re closer than what we have been,” Pierce said about securing a lease, if only temporary. “It will be awesome to have the lighthouse open for the festival.”
The St. Joseph Historical Society operated the lighthouse while on Cape San Blas under a lease with the Board of County Commissioners. The Society has also been the major fundraiser for renovating the lighthouse and keepers’ quarters while on Cape San Blas.
Buzzett brought up the 5 cents in additional local gas tax currently in the budget for the Board of County Commissioners.
The tax would bring a projected $338,000 into the county in 2015 and the city would see 27 percent of each nickel collected in Port St. Joe.
Funds collected through the tax must be used for road improvement projects and commissioners agreed it might be a way to repave artery roads Long Ave. and Garrison Ave.
“I’m not saying that I’m for it or against it at this time,” Buzzett said. “We could use the revenue and the folks from outside who visit here can help pay.”
Magidson expressed concern that residents would drive to Panama City where they could fill their tanks for 12 cents less per gallon.
“I’ve heard that folks really don’t like it,” Magidson said. “I’m not excited.”
For the tax to be added, it will require four votes on the BOCC which will hold a second public hearing Tuesday.
Moving closer to bringing affordable housing to Port St. Joe, commissioners passed an ordinance to re-zone some 40 acres North Port St. Joe off of Clifford Sims Blvd. to high density residential.
The action is in preparation for the Paces Foundation, a Georgia-based non-profit which recently received some $6 million in federal dollars to construct 50 affordable housing units in Port St. Joe.
The existing Future Land Use design had the 42 acre parcel split into 39 acres of open space and 3 acres as industrial use. Original plans sought 530 residential units; however, the new amendment will limit the number of units built to 150 with the possibility of expansion in the future.
Once again commissioners delayed a final decision on a new solid waste contract beginning Oct. 1, when the current contract with Waste Pro is open for renegotiation.
Commissioners have spent more than two months discussing competing proposals from Waste Pro and Waste Management which emerged from bidding by the BOCC for solid waste services.
Commissioners have considered updated proposals at several meetings and discussed the issue during at least five meetings with the recommendation from Gibson that, at this point, the contract should be bid.
That recommendation was voted down.
The last time the issue was raised, two weeks ago, Commissioner Bo Patterson asked to see contracts from both haulers that could be examined to get the best deal for Port St. Joe residents.
The contracts arrived last Friday and with limited time to review them, commissioners once again put off a decision.
Frank Pate Park boat ramp
Fees collected for use of the Frank Pate Park boat ramp totaled $12,000 for the months of July and August. Those funds will pay for maintenance and upkeep on the ramp.
Star News Editor Tim Croft contributed to this story