There was a time when the Board of County Commissioners pledged to contribute as much as $800,000 in bed tax dollars for improvements to the 10th Street Ball Park in Port St. Joe.
With that project off the table as the result of litigation from neighbors of the ball park complex, Port St. Joe commissioners are pondering what a fair share of that fifth-penny bed tax revenue is when it comes to improving other city parks.
A question the BOCC has already answered with an emphatic zero, nada, nothing.
County attorney Jeremy Novak has stated twice that the BOCC only committed funding for that single project.
But again last week, Port St. Joe commissioners expressed frustration with the county’s position, and the $25,000 the city will receive this fiscal year out of the Gulf County Tourist Development Council budget.
To review a nearly two-year process, a project the BOCC initiated at the city park was the sole reason the BOCC voted several summers ago to segregate the money for the 10th Street Ball Park.
The BOCC established a subcommittee to consider scope and budget for the work.
The county’s sole role, at least after public opposition grew, was to provide the funding; city commissioners were asked to provide a plan for spending the money, at the time at 10th Street.
“The county was asking the city what it wants,” said Commissioner Scott Hoffman. “Tell us and we’ll provide the funding.
“I believe there is support for funding a project in the city and it doesn’t have to be tied to 10th Street.”
A major sticking point in the entire discussion is the lack of any written contract between the city and county.
The park project moved forward steadily until residents living adjacent to the park became involved, all but ending the subcommittee’s deliberations and putting the onus on the city to select a plan.
Once the plan was approved and forwarded to the county, litigation was filed.
City attorney Adam Albritton said there is no documentation or verbal statements he can find in his research of the paperwork trail, including meeting minutes, “about anything beyond 10th Street.”
Hoffman noted that any discussion between city and county over a recreational complex was initiated with a focus on a park off Field of Dreams Ave. opposite the Gulf/Franklin Center.
“One thing I have learned in the last year is if it is not on paper, everybody forgets about it,” Hoffman said.
Instead of focusing on whether the county “owes” the city money, why not examine where the city could use the county before approaching the county, he said.
Hoffman noted proposed improvements at George Core Park and Jetty Park, to name just two areas where the money could be put to good use.
Mayor Rex Buzzett said a group had sought historic grant funding for the Washington Gym and High School complex and Peters Park could also use improvements.
“We have a lot of parks that need a lot of work,” Hoffman continued. “We should seek assistance for that.”
Hoffman suggested seeking an interlocal agreement with the county spelling out available funding from the county (TDC) and specific projects that city wanted to address, adding of the $25,000 contribution from the TDC to the city, “That is pennies. That is an insult.”
Commissioner Brett Lowry said commissioners should compose of a list of proposed parks and recreation projects the city would like to address to take to the BOCC for an agreement.
“We have buy-in and a scope of work we want to do,” Lowry said.