The other Panhandle counties get a billion dollars or so for road and bridge construction, no taxes and no tolls required, but Walton County gets the shaft? How did this come to pass, who is responsible for this debacle, what can we do about it now, and how can we avoid such a failure in future?
Secretary Prasad, at the meeting last year during which he told Walton's representatives that all new roads and bridges in Florida henceforth were going to be built with either tolls or local taxes, delivered an ultimatum — pick a tax or toll or the money goes away and widening 331 to I-10 would otherwise be kicked back to the haziness of maybe someday. 2035 was mentioned.
He further stated that the state was ready to start turning dirt on the bridge Oct. 1 of last year if Walton Countians accepted either tax or toll. I was sitting beside him when he made that statement, and two other members of our Board, Bonnie McQuiston and J.B. Hillard, were at the table seated across from him. The check is in the mail, I'm from the government and — well, you know the rest.
I learned three days ago from a fellow WCTA Board member who attended a Walton Chamber of Commerce luncheon around the inception of the back and forth with the state on the bridge that the guest speakers at that luncheon were Sen. Don Gaetz, Rep. Matt Gaetz, and Rep. Marti Coley.
The emcee tried to recognize the members of the Walton BCC there that day, asking them to stand. Embarrassingly, not a one of them was present. Their absence was noted by the guest speakers. As some of those negligently absent discovered, elections have consequences, and as we continue to discover, those other consequences haunt us today and will for years to come. Outrageous!
There is outrage to spare, but where should it be directed? At Secretary Prasad? At Gov. Scott? At our elected representatives in Tallahassee? At our prior BCC members? At the people enabling, encouraging and profiting from them?
Or should we be most outraged over the huge majority of residents who couldn't be bothered to vote? Pogo had it right. We have met the enemy and it is us, a disinterested electorate. Disinterested until outrages such as this are exposed, that is.
The adage “follow the money!” might be instructive in ascertaining responsibility. Who stood to gain financially? Were any BCC members involved in land deals, directly or indirectly, through which they stood to gain by their official acts (or failures to act)? Were any large contributors to any BCC members in any fashion responsible for this huge departure from the usual means of the state financing road and bridge projects?
Why the urgency pushed on us by the supporters of this project? Were there options about to expire on land, which would be purchased for right of way? Why was the new bridge changed from west of the existing to the east of same? Who stood to gain from this move?
Is this record prologue, or do we learn and move forward with our new BCC? We have an opportunity to use this terrible example of special interests stampeding a proposal to passage that is a huge financial windfall to a few. There is ample reason for concern about the integrity of that process, and we must ensure that the new BCC sets its priorities with the best interests of all Walton Countians at the forefront, abjuring the politics of enrichment of the favored few.
We now have a BCC which appears disposed to find its way on our behalf. It's up to us to help them such that we are spared future outrage.
Don Riley, M.D. is president of the Walton County Taxpayers Association