An interlocal agreement was made this week between the city of Destin and Okaloosa County to fund the sheriff office’s enhanced law enforcement plan for Spring Break 2016. WUWF’s Danielle Freeman reports, although the cost will be shared by both parties and the measure is just a contingency plan, the source of the funding is still uncertain.
“You know we had the benefit of being an armchair quarterback to a degree of seeing what happened in Bay County and Panama City. Spring break starts in less than sixty days.” Destin Mayor Mel Ponder, who will be stepping down on January 15th to run for the District 4 seat says the concept is to be proactive.
Ponder says it’s imperative that Okaloosa County avoids the negative national attention our neighboring counties to the east suffered from last year, “And there’s a family brand on this city that we need to protect and we don’t need to let it go to a national frat free-for-all. And so I just encourage you to please do not delay something in this, decide on the finances but let’s get something, a standard in place so we’re protected for spring break.”
The total cost of funding the program is 107 thousand dollars. The county will pony up close to 32 thousand dollars and the city of Destin will owe nearly 75 thousand dollars due to service calls essentially being higher in the area.
Destin City Council member Prebble Ramswell thinks Destin taxpayers should not be responsible for paying the bill. Ramswell has been very vocal in the pursuit of funding for the program through the use of bed tax dollars, much like Bay County has done since 2013, “What they do is they actually mark the event as a special event and the way they pay for it is using TDC (Tourist Development Council) funds marked for special events security personnel. I felt so strongly that we needed to be proactive and try to get some sort of response.”
However, new Commission Chairman, Kelly Windes has a different reply to the source of funding; saying two wrongs don’t necessarily make a right, “I would suggest we take it out of reserves, for the simple reason that this may not be a recurring event. This is a trial year to see what this spring break is going to do. Probably we’ll need it again but it’s not written in stone.”
Echoing Chairman Windes opinion is District 1 Commissioner Wayne Harris, “I agree it should come out of tourist development taxes, it can’t at this time until the attorney general of the state says it is authorized it’s going to have to come out of some other source than bed tax. And I would be opposed if it were coming out of bed tax.”
Vice Chair Carolyn Ketchel added that those who do intend to use TDC funds will ultimately be fined down the road, “The misinformation continues because many counties have decided to go into that money and use it. But, they’re going to be penalized down the road. This money cannot be used for that purpose for law enforcement so it would have to come from reserves.”
Typically there’s one beach patrol deputy on Okaloosa Island and one in Destin per day during spring break. The upgraded plan now calls for a supervisor and eight deputies deployed from Crystal Beach to Okaloosa Island. And, a command post will be located at Henderson Beach State Park. And rather than just a written citation for underage drinking on the beach, arrests will be made.
As spring break quickly approaches, Commissioner Trey Goodwin says there is the united front by city and county officials to ensure a safe and enjoyable season, “We found a way to get a good deal with the partnership with the city of Destin, I think is another good thing, local governments participating together to make sure that we’re protecting our citizens.”
But, the question still remains, where will the money come from? Okaloosa County Commissioners have agreed to return with a budget amendment at a future meeting.