Walton County Board of County Commissioners voted Tuesday to help to the City of Freeport fund the Brandon Oaks subdivision switch from septic tanks to City sewer.
Mayor Russ Barley offered to notify those homeowners by certified mail within 30 days of an agreement with the County that city sewer is available.
Barley also stated that within 24 months of an agreement with the County, the City of Freeport would work with the affected homeowners to abandon 54 septic systems and connect those to City sewer.
"The City of Freeport will abandon the (14) septic systems that are failing and connect those to city sewer," Barley stated.
He went on to state that he was requesting Walton County designate and make available $144,846 for this purpose.
On completion of each septic abandonment, the City offered to submit documentation to the County for reimbursement of $8,300, at which time the County would designate $308,057 in loan for the initiative.
On completion of each septic abandonment, Freeport would then ask for credit forgiveness of $8,300 of the $308,057 water and sewer loan.
Homeowners in Brandon Oaks that do not participate and take advantage of the opportunity within the 24-month period will be forced to connect to city sewer at their own expense pursuant to Florida Statute.
There are 54 homes in the subdivision, resulting in a projected cost of $448,200, plus a developer’s escrow account of $144,846.
Before the vote, District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander was the first to speak up and say she did not feel comfortable with the counter offer.
"Where is the money we loaned them originally? Maybe some kind of audit is in order," she said.
However, District 1 Commissioner Bill Chapman was more inclined to take up for the distressed town.
"There are two new board members at Freeport. With new alignment of the board, it will be more in line of the working with the county," he said. "They are asking for a forensic audit to determine where the money is. They are willing to work with us. I agree this is money owed to us. Maybe for a time we get a percentage of tap fees to pay for it, and until we recoup the $300,000, we get a percentage each month from sewer."
District 2 Commissioner Cecilia Jones noted that the situation is a safety issue.
Robert Rogers, a resident of the area who lives on Bay Grove Road, had a lot to say to the Board.
"The county platted this all around me," he said. "The bond for $144,000 was kept out for drainage and swells. My yard floods. I have two kinds of e-coli in my yard. No one has helped me. My dog can't go out in the yard without her paws being wiped or she gets infected. Now the County is letting them put in 20 more houses in Phase 2."
Chapman told the frustrated homeowner that the permitted design accepted in 2004 would not be accepted today.
But Comander suggested getting engineers out to look at the ditch behind Rogers' home.
Bill Fletcher, a resident of the area told Commissioners, "This is a critical situation. It has to be addressed. If feasible ask Freeport to give any excess funds to this."
Cliff Knauer with Preble Rish Engineering told Commissioners he did a study on stormwater at Brandon Oaks and designed a solution to drainage.
"We received a dredge permit. The Army Corp of Engineers Is still doing their survey. Once in, that will fix the drainage but we still need authorization to fix what is behind those houses. It was part of an HOA, which is now defunct, so, it will now need to come from homeowners. Individual landowners have been cutting a berm to drain, then it goes to Rogers' home," he said.
Chapman instructed County Attorney Sidney Noyes to find out if cutting that berm is a code violation and if it is, the residents who are cutting it should be fined.
Knauer said only 30 percent of residents hooked up to sewer and the money dedicated for hookups went into the ground for force main.
"The city collected very little back. The people won't hook up. There are dozens, over a hundred who won't hook up. The money has not disappeared, it's in the ground. Maybe some type of effort could get these people on the Bay to hook up," said Knauer.
District 5 Commissioner Tony Anderson noted that this was done years ago.
"Someone is dropping the ball on sending these letters. Why are these people not being forced to do this? State says you have to do this, but no one is doing this," he said.
Knauer noted that the residents are not Freeport residents, but county residents.
"State law says you have to do this," replied Anderson.
Comander suggested some type of incentive such as an interest-free loan for those people and she urged that letters be sent out now to people who own homes along the ditch.
District 3 Commissioner, Melanie Nipper, who was back after two-months away, noted that a loan is paid back. "It's not for the tax payers of Walton County to pay."
"The issue is the money has never been collected," said Knauer.
Comander offered a 50/50 concession and Chapman noted that Freeport had suggested a two-year time frame but he wanted that moved up to 18 months.
Commissioners voted unanimously to accept the City of Freeport's counter proposal with modifications of a 50/50 cost share, 18 months to complete the work, and 50 percent loan repay.