Bonfires big businesses? Fees bringing an estimated $650K to Walton code department

·5 min read

SANTA ROSA BEACH — Beach bonfires are a hot commodity for Walton County's Code Compliance Department, the department's director told county commissioners at their Nov. 23 meeting.

Earlier this year, commissioners approved a change to the county's beach activities ordinance that increased the cost of a beach bonfire permit from $50 to $100, with proceeds split equally between the Code Compliance Department and the South Walton Fire District.

Between April 1 and the end of September, the new fee arrangement had brought $322,700 to the Code Compliance Department, Director Tony Cornman told commissioners.

That represents fees collected for the 6,454 beach bonfire permits issued through September. And with cold weather now descending on the area, Cornman said his office expects the number of permits issued to approach 7,000 by the end of the year, which would mean a total of $350,000 in revenue.

Beachgoers enjoy a day in Miramar Beach. Next month, Walton County commissioners will consider proposed changes to the county's beach activities ordinance.
Beachgoers enjoy a day in Miramar Beach. Next month, Walton County commissioners will consider proposed changes to the county's beach activities ordinance.

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Prior to the change in the ordinance, beach bonfire fee permits cost $50 and all the money went to the South Walton Fire District.

Nearly matching the revenue coming into the Code Compliance Department from bonfire permits is the fee collected by the department for its oversight of the county's managed vendor program. That responsibility, given to Code Compliance last year, involves addressing any issues with vendors working at the county's public beach access points.

For that work, the department receives a $3 fee from each set of beach chairs and umbrellas rented and set up on the public beaches by the 21 vendors participating in the managed vendor program. Through September of this year, Cornman told commissioners that vendors had rented 99,587 sets of beach chairs and umbrellas, bringing $298,761 to his department.

A beach vendor with La Docle Vita stacks up beach chairs to remove them before a storm in September 2018. Walton County commissioners next month are expected to consider proposed changes to the county's beach activities ordinance.
A beach vendor with La Docle Vita stacks up beach chairs to remove them before a storm in September 2018. Walton County commissioners next month are expected to consider proposed changes to the county's beach activities ordinance.

On a related note, Cornman said vendors working through the managed vendor program — conducted under the umbrella of the private nonprofit South Walton Beach Services Association (SWBSA) — have been exceedingly compliant with regulations. Code Compliance personnel have thus far this year noted just 26 violations of the contract between the county and SWBSA, Cornman said, with many of those violations covering the minor infraction of vendor employees not wearing T-shirts.

In other enforcement-related developments, Cornman told commissioners that through October, Code Compliance personnel processed 10,385 "cases or complaints" regarding beach-related code issues.

"That's a substantial increase from last year, by about 3,000 or so," he said.

Within that number, Code Compliance personnel issued 363 citations, 163 of which were issued to people violating double-red flag warnings on the county's beaches, Cornman said.

Double-red flags are displayed at the county's beaches whenever surf conditions are deemed too dangerous for people to enter the Gulf of Mexico. The county has focused on enforcement of double-red flags in recent months in the wake of growing defiance of the dangerous surf warnings by beachgoers.

An employee of a local beach vendor moves chairs in Walton County. County commissioners next month are expected to consider changes to their beach activities ordinance.
An employee of a local beach vendor moves chairs in Walton County. County commissioners next month are expected to consider changes to their beach activities ordinance.

In other beach-related developments at the commission meeting, commissioners at Cornman's request set Dec. 14 as the date for a public hearing on proposed changes to the county's beach activities ordinance.

Each year as the tourist season winds down, the Code Compliance Department hosts public workshops to solicit ideas for changes to the law. At this year's sessions, those discussions focused on vendor operations, noise, the use of tents on beaches and crowding, Cornman said..

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Commissioners also decided to retain the South Walton Beach Services Association as the concession services provider under the managed vendor program.

Commissioners voted in September to solicit requests for proposals for concession services on public beaches. The SWBSA proposal was one of two responses to the request, with the other coming from local beach services company La Dolce Vita.

In non-beach-related action at the Nov. 23 session, commissioners voted unanimously to advertise for proposals for the use of a parcel adjacent to the Love's Travel Stop in the Mossy Head Industrial Park on Interstate 10 at State Road 285.

The decision came as commissioners were informed that Love's Travel Stop is interested in establishing a recreational vehicle park on the tract. A local company, Sweet Southern Trade, is also interested in the site.

According to information presented to commissioners, Niceville-based Sweet Southern Trade is interested in using the acreage to establish a facility to manufacture "gummies," an edible product that can contain a variety of substances, with the possible future development of a restaurant on the acreage near the Sleep Inn.

Sweet Southern Trade currently manufactures gummies containing hemp, melatonin and Vitamin C, according to information included with the meeting agenda.

Love's Travel Stops is offering $150,000 for 5.1 acres at the Sleep Inn. Sweet Southern Trade is looking for 3 to 7 acres at the same location and is offering $20,000 per acre.

The Love's Travel Stop proposal is projected to create two jobs, with the Sweet Southern Trade project slated to create 10 jobs, and possibly more as plans for the restaurant are developed.

The commission's decision to advertise for proposals for use of the acreage will put Love's Travel Stops and Sweet Southern Trade — and any other company that might be interested — in formal competition with one another. At that point, the commission's job will be to determine "the highest and best use" for the land and proceed accordingly with making a deal for property at the industrial park.

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"We're not looking to make money as a real estate broker, we're looking to create jobs," Bill Imfeld, executive director of the Walton County Economic Development Alliance, told commissioners as he walked them through the proposals.

"This is supposed to create jobs," Commissioner Danny Glidewell said, "and (comparing) 10 jobs to two jobs is sort of a no-brainer, but the process (for deciding who gets the acreage) is what the process is."

Also at the meeting, commissioners unanimously appointed Commissioner Mike Barker as the commission's new chairman and appointed Glidewell as vice chairman. The two commissioners will assume their respective duties next month.

This article originally appeared on Northwest Florida Daily News: Walton beach fees paying dividends for Code Compliance Department

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