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Preserve Navarre says incorporation is feasible

Preserve Navarre shared its feasibility study Sunday afternoon.
Jennie McKeon
WUWF Public Media
Preserve Navarre shared its feasibility study Sunday afternoon.

Incorporating the Navarre area is feasible and would cost one mill in property taxes, according to a feasibility study conducted by the nonprofit group Preserve Navarre.

At its latest meeting Sunday afternoon, Preserve Navarre laid out the key findings from the 118-page feasibility study it conducted over the past several months based on research from group members and survey results from more than 3,000 residents.

“There is a strong desire for home rule,” said Preserve Navarre Director Wes Siler who began the effort to look into incorporating the area of Navarre in 2020.

In July, the group released a survey available online asking residents to identify what services they wanted, possible city limits and what goals they had for a city. Based on the answers, 66% of participants favored incorporation of Navarre and prioritized investments in infrastructure, transportation, and recreation as targeted areas of concern.

The feasibility study was carried out as part of the legal requirements according to the Florida statute, but also to gauge community interest, said Siler. If, at any point, it seemed there was no interest in incorporation, the group wouldn’t seek it, he said.

Past incorporation efforts in 2006 and 2014 outsourced feasibility studies — both came back feasible. To save tens of thousands of dollars, Preserve Navarre conducted the current study with information from officials, administrators and representatives and with guidance from the Florida League of Cities.

The proposed city of Navarre Beach would have an infrastructure department with emphasis on bike lane projects, stormwater mitigation and beautification projects. It would have a parks and recreation department that would include a youth sports program as well as education and art programs. It would also look into expanding Navarre’s parks. Currently, Navarre has one county park. Two playground areas are also located at the Navarre Youth Sports Association and at the Holley Ball Field.

“I don’t know how a community of 40,000 people can only have a few parks,” Siler commented.

Incorporation would also mean access to state and federal revenue such as the Local Option Fuel Tax (LOFT) and the half-cent sales tax, or through grants. It would also mean having a seat at the table with state and federal representatives.

“The fact that (the town of) Jay is sitting at the table getting millions of dollars for 600 people really grinds my gears,” said Siler.

Based on the results of the citizen survey, the city would be governed by a strong city council — citizens do not want a strong mayor.

Some aspects of the study elicited comments from some of the 47 people in attendance. The idea of a homeless housing assistance program wasn’t necessary, said resident Carmen Reynolds. Siler said it was more so a contingency program and could also be used by families displaced by hurricanes.

But all comments, good or bad, are welcomed and being taken seriously, Siler said. Feedback will be added to the survey.

“I appreciate that you all care,” he said.

Incorporation is a divisive issue in Navarre. In 2014, 56% of Navarre voters opposed incorporation in a straw poll. Another divisive issue is whether to include the Holley area within city limits. Siler said he got mixed responses when talking to businesses and residents. For now, it won’t be included, unless there’s a strong desire for it. Navarre Beach, however, was a must according to citizens.

The biggest question around incorporation is cost. Many residents have spoken out against incorporation because they don’t want the added cost. At Sunday’s meeting, Siler said the city could be funded with a 1-mill property tax.

It’s broken down in the handouts provided to attendees. With the average current home price tag in Navarre at $429,900, the homeowner would be paying $4,706.12 in taxes with Homestead Exemption. With incorporation, the annual taxes would be 5,097.37 (or $32.60 a month) on that average price home.

“There are over 16 cities in Florida that have 1-mill property taxes or below,” Siler said.

The projected budget for the city of Navarre Beach’s first year would be $5 million, which means it would take several years for the city to start tackling the citizens' wish list.

But citizens in favor of incorporation have already been waiting.

“I want it,” said Diane Smith who lived in Navarre for the past 17 years and voted in favor of incorporation in 2014. “There’s too much control in the county. We need more sidewalks — the roads are bad. I’m really hoping it happens.”

The next steps are completing a city charter and looking for politicians to help with the proposal before putting the issue to a vote. This comes after state Rep. Jayer Williamson introduced legislation that would require incorporation efforts to reach 60% voter approval in a nonbinding referendum. Williamson brought forth the bill earlier this year but it died.

“I haven’t gotten assurance from the county commissioners or the state representative (Rep. Jayer Williamson),” said Siler. “I want to see a fair process and I haven’t gotten that.”

Contact Preserve Navarre at preservenavarre@gmail.com.

Jennie joined WUWF in 2018 as digital content producer and reporter.