An item on the Dec. 11 Board of County Commissioner agenda will spark a discussion of legal uses for TDC bed tax funds.
That, a quasi-judicial session for the major development Lupin in Inlet Beach, and a conversation by Commissioner Cindy Meadows about televising BCC meetings are just a few of the items on the lengthy agenda.
The TDC funds will come up in the beginning part of the agenda.
Walton County created the TDC and its bed tax collection in accordance with Florida statute, 125.0104, which states that the tourist development tax, or the bed tax, can be collected and used to "provide for the advancement, generation, growth and promotion of tourism, the enhancement of the tourist industry, and the attraction of conventioneers and tourists.”
Following a Nov. 16 advisory opinion by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, the county will evaluate new uses for taxes collected by vacationers in South Walton. The opinion states that the TDC would be legally permitted to fund construction of bike and multiuse paths if “they constitute an extension, enlargement, remodeling, or improvement of a nature center,” according to a letter from Bondi to former Commission Chair Scott Brannon. These paths include those used for “biking, hiking, walking and running” and are considered part of a “nature center.” According to Bondi, the money could be used to enhance the already existing 18-mile bike and recreation path.
If the funds are to be to the benefit of tourists, such as “maintenance, repair, improvement and expansion of a multi-use pathway” and is approved at the county level, Bondi states the bed tax dollars are usable.
If the use is expanded, Bondi said the tourist development tax dollars could also be used to “acquire land and adjacent rights-of-way to provide public parking facilities to serve beach access areas.”
But the Florida Attorney General said the power to make decisions regarding the use bed tax funds ultimately remains at the county level.
“Thedetermination of whether a particular expenditure satisfies the requirements of section 125.0104, Florida Statutes, is the responsibility of the governing body of the county and cannot be delegated to this office."
The TDC will have to wait for the county to “give direction since this is new information and not currently in the TDC budget or strategic plan,” TDC Director Dawn Moliterno told The Sun.Following the Dec. 11 meeting and the county’s proposal, Moliterno said the TDC will “proceed as directed.”
In other meeting news, Lupin Beach PUD has made its way back on the agenda as the final item in the quasi-judicial section. The large-scale development in the southeastern-most part of the county was to be discussed at the Nov. 13 meeting of the BCC, but the former commissioners continued it until Dec. 11.
This development, proposed by the same developers that created Alys Beach, includes 20 single-family homes on the 6.36-acre Gulf-front plot. It represents one of the largest developments since the real estate market slowdown that began in 2006, and it has drawn some opposition from neighbors.
The controversy comes in when discussing the Gulf-front homes, some of which extend past the Coastal Construction Control Line and into the Coastal Protection Zone. The would-be neighbors of this development fear this would compromise the protective strength of the primary dune ridge, which has protected the surrounding development in hurricanes and major storms past.
This won’t be the first time Commissioner Meadows will see the item, and she remembers it when it first came before the commission in 2008.
“As I recall, there was a lot of opposition to the fact that they were using old maps to determine CCCL and CPZ” lines,” she said.
Though she did remember the fact that it had been a contested development order, Meadows declined to speculate on the outcome of the hearing.
“There will be a lot of testimony and a lot of information that will come out,” she said. “You just take each one and review the material and study the material … And then you make a decision.”
The BCC meeting will be held at the South Walton Courthouse Annex at 4 p.m. Dec. 11.