Walton County Commissioner Sara Comander hosted a "town hall" Q&A to take the pulse of the public Monday night at the Coastal Branch Library.
About a dozen people attended the meeting.
Topics ranged from the Restore Act, traffic congestion at the intersection of County Roads 395 and 30A, county right-of-ways, the county administrator position, the 30A bike path, solicitors, lights on the beach, preserving the uniqueness of 30A, and the need for public input on a strategic plan.
Comander said the visioning process for the county that was begun in 2008 is not where she would like it to be, adding she would like the process to go farther in getting public input on ways to achieve goals.
Comander had just returned from a week in Tallahassee, along with the other commissioners. While there, they met with the governor about the Restore Act, the money to come from the BP settlement, and how the money can be spent. She said so far, the county has not seen the money. But when the money does come in, guidelines are clear that it must be spent on infrastructure, the environment, job creation, and some tourism aspects.
Comander said she also favors putting some money aside for the future.
Another issue that was discussed was traffic congestion at the intersection of County Roads 30A and 395 during peak season.
Solutions to the problem that have been considered include a traffic light, installing a roundabout, and one group would like to see a traffic cop there during busy times. Results of such studies and considerations could take a year to materialize, said Comander.
However, one resident who lives near the intersection wants to speed things up.
Jane Soloman said she called the sheriff's office and was told there was no funding available for additional deputies to man the intersection. Soloman said since the situation is affecting her ability to get out of her driveway, she envisions holding a fundraiser to pay someone to direct traffic there over Memorial Day weekend.
She said her group of concerned citizens would stand at the intersection and collect money in much the same way other organizations do. While she has not cleared the plan with the Sheriff's Office yet, she sees no reason why it would not be OK.
"Backed up traffic here is a big issue and can result in a 35-minute wait to get through the intersection and for me to get out of my driveway," Soloman said.
The mass of cars trying to get through the intersection during peak season has been hampered recently by groups positioning themselves at the intersection trying to collect money for various organizations.
Soloman said the most recent "panhandlers" were a Destin soccer team that had come over from the next county.
Comander said there is a permit process that solicitors are supposed to go through prior to manning an intersection.
Her audience suggested that permit process be widened to include no solicitation during Spring Break weeks or major holidays, and none at congested intersections such as 30A and 395, and 30A and 393. The audience also expressed a desire that only Walton County clubs and organizations be permitted. Some would like to see solicitors only allowed during the off-season, and still others would like to see solicitation stopped all together.
The intersection of 30A and 395 is currently a three-way stop. A roundabout would keep the traffic moving and would have the least impact, said Comander. However, some in the audience voiced objection to a roundabout.
If a traffic light was put in and a turn lane was built, the county's right-of-way could be used, but that scenario could interfere with existing homes' parking spaces.
Before the meeting adjourned, Bob Hudson threw out another consideration: "As we look for ways to solve the traffic problems, we need to think about 'Will the solution ruin the uniqueness of 30A?"
He also expressed concern about the county's track record in hiring and keeping professionals to run the county's business.
"Our track record is not good," he said. "We need to hire qualified professionals and get out of their way. Our challenge is to entice someone to come here. Public Works is a revolving door. As is the TDC. I want a county commission that can address issues in a professional manner. We've got to make progress, carry the county forward and get stability. It's my sincere hope that we can grow up."
Hudson's speech won a round of applause from the audience.