With 2019 underway, Walton County Administrator Larry Jones commented on some of the biggest issues from the past year, how the county overcame them and what to expect in the months to come.
Jones has been the administrator of Walton County for more than five years and said he's thankful for the opportunity to serve the citizens of the area.
Q: What were some of the biggest challenges that Walton County faced in 2018?
A: A majority of the county's challenges hinge from growth. Growth puts pressure on infrastructure, recreation, public safety and other public services. Growth in permanent population and visitors strain roadway capacity, causing challenges with traffic issues. Further, growth taxes the economy's ability to provide sustainable jobs and related housing. While growth, and its related issues, are not the only challenges faced by the county in the past year, those issues rise to the surface when reflecting on 2018.
Q: How were you and the county able to solve them?
A: One of the greatest accomplishments over the past year was the completion of the widening and improvements along U.S. 331. This facilitated the movement of traffic north and south through the county as well as greatly enhancing hurricane evacuation response time. Committing resources to each of the matters mentioned (prior) has provided some relief in those areas, however, there is more work to be done. Creating initiatives in these, and other areas of concern for the county, is a fluid process, requiring the ability to react and respond in a timely manner as issues arise. A continued commitment by the board of county commissioners to these and other priorities will be reflected in the annual budgeting process.
Q: What projects are you most passionate about?
A: Our passion is driven by board direction. As the administrative arm of the county, it is our responsibility to initiate and enact board directives. Board action and direction over the past year indicates a passion for greater economic development, including a component of workforce housing, protection of our beaches, enhanced infrastructure, including roads and bridges, managed growth and greater recreational opportunities.
Q: What do you think sets Walton County apart from other places?
A: Walton County is one of the most unique places in the world. It is unique in that it represents America's farmers, small-town America, workable waterfronts, world-class resorts and vacation opportunities, beaches like no others and a quality of life that draws individuals from around the world. All of these qualities are wrapped around the three words found on the county sea: Pride, Preservation and Conservation.
Q: What is the county's current stance on customary use, and what are your thoughts on the issue and the uproar it caused last year?
A: The board has clearly stated their position on customary use and is moving forward with the judicial process outlined in legislation to substantiate a customary use claim for the beaches of Walton County.
Q: Looking ahead, what do you hope to accomplish in 2019?
A: We hope and plan to continue making progress on the issues and challenges facing the county, most of which will be a continuation from 2018. However, it is always prudent to foresee difficulties and act to eliminate or minimize their impact. It is also important for the county to position itself to react to those unforeseen instances which require immediate attention.