Port St. Joe commissioners agreed Tuesday to seek a setting on which they and the Board of County Commissioners can find common ground.
Commissioners approved the county’s request to schedule a joint workshop sometime before the two governing bodies hold their last bi-monthly meetings of June.
The hope: to find resolution for several pressing issues that are the latest rubs in a long-tense relationship.
One is the relocation of the Port St. Joe Redevelopment Agency from the Gulf County Welcome Center to accommodate the growth of the Gulf County Tourist Development Council.
Another is an interlocal agreement the two governing bodies have different ideas about amending.
And given his high-decibel more than 15-minute monologue at the end of last week’s BOCC meeting, County Commissioner Tan Smiley seems likely to raise issues he has consistently and loudly raised for two years: rising water rates and law enforcement consolidation he argues would help bring water rates down.
The county has sought to un-couple the interlocal agreement and PSJRA move – which is time sensitive as the city agency is paying for two office spaces while the county and city are at an impasse.
As part of the county’s response to the city’s letter regarding the agreement, the BOCC asked the city to work on scheduling a workshop on the interlocal agreement and permit the PSJRA move.
City Commissioner Rex Buzzett said Tuesday he had seen indications the county was moving in a “positive” direction.
“I would like to show some good faith on our part and let the PSJRA move,” provided there were assurances that a joint workshop would be an “amicable” effort to find collegial solutions, Buzzett said.
He wondered if the workshop was desired before the move and if so, he moved to schedule a workshop as soon as the coming Tuesday. A date and time have yet to be firmed up.
The county response to a city letter from March also indicates the county would like the city to turn the land on which the Welcome Center sits over to the county, a position for which Buzzett wanted clarification.
Mayor Mel Magidson said he has long wanted the workshop to amend the interlocal agreement that cleared the way for the city to annex WindMark Beach.
Specifically, the city wants a fire tax earmarked for a station in WindMark to be divided among the Highland View, Beaches and Port St. Joe Volunteer Fire Departments for equipment upgrades instead of going into the county’s general fund.
When the county inquired about moving the PSJRA a few months ago, the city again raised the fire tax issue, Magidson said.
“I want to make sure the record reflects that I asked for a joint meeting about the fire tax more than a year ago,” Magidson said. “This body has tried to bring these issues to a head.”
He was particularly frustrated with county commissioners questioning of uniform water and sewer rates for county residents on the city’s system, part of the interlocal agreement.
“We have a city ordinance that says what the rates are and they are the same for everybody,” Magidson said.
He said equipment upgrades at the three fire departments that respond to WindMark Beach could have a positive impact on the city’s ISO rating which determines fire insurance rates paid by residents.
“I think it is a valid issue to raise,” Magidson said.
While the BOCC identified three outstanding issues during its previous meeting, Magidson said his view was the fire tax was the lone outstanding issue to be resolved.
As for the water rates and law enforcement consolidation that Smiley has raised repeatedly, Magidson said the city had already “run the numbers” on consolidating law enforcement and “they did not work.”
And earlier in the meeting, the city’s auditor noted that the raising of water rates over the past several years was a necessary operational step to improve the city’s financial picture given millions in required infrastructure upgrades which have contributed to the city’s $15 million in short-term debt.
The Florida Division of Historic Preservation has signed off on the site for the relocation of the Cape San Blas Lighthouse to Port St. Joe’s George Core Park. Preble Rish Engineers will begin soil sampling in the coming days.
The site is slightly tweaked that what was determined during a prior city workshop.
At the behest of the Division of Historic Preservation, the lighthouse location was moved roughly 50-60 feet closer to the bay and further from Miss Zola’s Drive, nearer the stormwater pond. The two keepers’ quarters are to the north and slightly east, allowing for the lighthouse to be more clearly viewed from Third Street.
The site remains nearly in line with the extension of Third Street into the park area.
Magidson said he hoped the city would be ready to go out for bid on the move of the lighthouse by its June 18 meeting.