The city of Destin and the Destin Fire Control District are in the process of creating an interlocal agreement that would essentially lay out what services the city receives for it's funding of the beach safety program.
"When we first started this program, the money we received was given to us with no stipulation, outside of not letting people drown," Fire Chief Kevin Sasser told The Log. "Things have changed a bit since then."
Currently the fire district is working through an interlocal agreement for the funding they receive from the Okaloosa County Tourist Development Council. Once that agreement is received, the district will turn its attention to an agreement with the city.
For the 2014 fiscal year, the fire district will receive $551,536 from the TDC and $100,000 from the city of Destin to fund its beach safety program. In Destin, the beach safety lifeguards patrol six miles of beaches.
While the Destin beach safety program and Okaloosa Island currently receive equal funding from the TDC, fire officials have been outspoken in the past about the split in funding, as Destin lifeguards cover six miles of beach, compared to Okaloosa Island lifeguards that cover three miles.
During a recent City Council meeting, some city leaders questioned "what they were getting" for the funding they provide the fire district.
"Since we are fine-tuning our budgets … I think we need to be very specific on how that money goes out there." Councilman Jim Foreman said.
Essentially, Sasser told The Log that the city's funding pays for the "backbone" of the beach safety service in Destin. Directly, he said the funding would provide for four lifeguards in chairs on the beach and one lifeguard on a jet ski patrolling East Pass.
"Without your assistance, we wouldn't have the program we have today," Sasser told city leaders during a recent meeting. "The money you provide is a significant benefit to what we do on the beach."
During the meeting, the idea of the TDC funding the entire program was floated, much like in Walton County where the TDC funds the beach program through what's called the "New Product Penny" of bed tax collections.
The monies fund the beach safety program, "including but not limited to lifeguard services at all eight regional accesses…”
For his part, Sasser said he would "absolutely love" for the TDC to fund his entire beach program, essentially taking the burden off the city of Destin.
For now though, he said the plan is to draft the interlocal agreement and present it to city leaders in either late October or early November.
"We all want the same thing," he said. "That's to make sure nobody drowns on our beaches."
TAX INCREASE ON THE HORIZON?
When the Destin Fire Control District's Board of Fire Commissioners meets tonight they will be discussing their fiscal year 2014 budget. As part of the proposed budget, commissioners will have to decide whether or not to increase the property tax levy and accept more than $60,000 in funding that's available based on increased property values, Commissioner Tommy Green told The Log. While the item is considered a tax increase, Green said residents’ taxes will not be raised, especially given that the district has its millage rate capped at 1.0 mills, which is where it currently stands. Tonight's (Wednesday’s) meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m., or soon thereafter, at the Destin Fire Control District's main office at 848 Airport Road. The public is welcome. For more information call 837-8413.