Port St. Joe city commissioners are willing to give thought to moving the Port St. Joe Redevelopment Agency out of the county Welcome Center.

Port St. Joe city commissioners are willing to give thought to moving the Port St. Joe Redevelopment Agency out of the county Welcome Center.

First, however,, they’d like to see a little give from the Board of County Commissioners.

City commissioners agreed Monday to consider a proposed move of the PSJRA offices from the Welcome Center to the Local Color building now housing the Gulf County Chamber of Commerce, but only if the county will rework an interlocal agreement, pick up the insurance at the Welcome Center and cover PSJRA moving costs.

The county has broached the city about moving the PSJRA out of the Welcome Center as the staff at the Gulf County Tourist Development Council has grown.

The TDC and PSJRA share the Welcome Center under a lease agreement from the city, which owns the land on which the Welcome Center sits, to the county.

The building itself was moved from St. Joseph Peninsula to the city using TDC funds, and city attorney Tom Gibson noted that the lease agreement indicates the city owns the land and building.

The city is amenable to considering the PSJRA move, but only if the BOCC agrees to changes in an interlocal agreement long sought by the city.

The interlocal agreement was entered into in 2005 as part of the Development of Regional Impact (DRI) review for WindMark Beach.

The provisions of that agreement, Gibson noted, have either been met or dropped in the years since as the bursting of the housing bubble took the wind out of the sails of development at WindMark Beach.

The city has for nearly a year attempted to have a provision that requires the city to pay a fire tax to the county for establishment of a fire station at WindMark Beach reworked to reflect the changing dynamics on the ground.

Specifically, the city wants to divide the fire tax – equal to a fraction of a mill worth roughly $25,000-$30,000 a year depending on property values and building at the development – into three equal parts.

One part would go to the Highland View Volunteer Fire Department, another to the Beaches Volunteer Fire Department and the final third would go to the Port St. Joe Fire Department.

The reasoning for the change is that those three fire departments are the primary units responding to any fire at WindMark Beach or along much of the southern end of Gulf County.

“There is not any reason to build a fire station out there until there are a certain number of homes,” said Mayor Mel Magidson. “That is a no-brainer.”

Despite proposing the change several times during joint meetings, the city has yet to secure county sign-off on the change to an agreement that has long been a source of tension between the city and county.

And, Magidson noted, the amended interlocal agreement lets the county off the hook for $600,000 to be spent as the county’s share of a proposed new recreational complex.

Yet, still, the BOCC was holding out on the fire tax changes.

“We keep hearing about the county wanting to have better relationships with the city, and we are trying our best do that and I feel like we are just spinning our wheels,” Magidson said.

The county also wants the city to agree to charge utility consumers the same rate, whether inside or outside the city limits, a practice the city embraced more than two years ago.

Lacking any give from the county, city commissioners wondered during a special meeting Monday why the city should consider moving the PSJRA.

“I don’t know why we are discussing moving out,” said Commissioner Phil McCroan. “We have a contract. We own the property the house is on.”

Commissioner Rex Buzzett said the city has a valid lease for 10 years under which the PSJRA must be provided working space in the Welcome Center.

Unless the county was willing to pick up the moving costs – at least $800 – and pick up the insurance on the building which is now paid by the city, commissioners had no real incentive to agree to the move.

“There is no reason for us to move and it cost our agency money,” Buzzett said.

Gail Alsobrook director of the PSJRA, said that estimates showed that the monthly operational costs would not change with the new location; the only new expenses would be that associated with the move.

Commissioners unanimously approved a motion from Buzzett that would leave the PSJRA in place until the county agreed to cover the moving costs, pick up the Welcome Center insurance and amend the interlocal agreement language on the fire tax.