The March 13 city election for Destin mayor and council members is now less than a month away and voters are more confused than ever by the candidates’ claims and counter-claims. We can overcome that confusion the old-fashioned way: “Follow the money.” We need to look at where the campaign contributions are coming from and where our tax dollars are going.

The Destin Log will soon report on who is contributing what, and to whom. This column will look at where we can expect our tax dollars to go, depending on which candidates are elected.

We already know that current mayor/re-election candidate Scott Fischer wants to spend $71 million of taxpayer's money on a Gulf Power utility buyout. Other candidates have higher priorities for our tax dollars. These include fixing traffic, undergrounding our utilities and building our own Destin high school. Let’s look at them.

TRAFFIC: The crosstown connector lies uncompleted from Beach Drive to the Marler bridge. And the sections that have completed are already overburdened with congested two-lane traffic. We need money to complete and widen the crosstown connector.

UNDERGROUND UTILITIES: There is a myth that a Gulf Power buyout would somehow facilitate undergrounding our utilities. In fact, the opposite is true. Spending $71 million to buy the utility means that we have $71 million less to underground the power lines. None of that $71 million would go to making our city more beautiful.

DESTIN HIGH SCHOOL: Whereas investing in the above-mentioned infrastructure is important, our kids are more important. Destin has top-notch elementary and middle schools. But after progressing from kindergarten through middle school, they are then bused off to Niceville or Fort Walton Beach, away from their familiar surroundings and friends. They deserve their own high school.

We need a mayor and city council members who will put the interests of our citizens above their own pet projects. The best way to determine what our citizens really want is to hold a referendum on the current mayor’s proposed $71 million Gulf Power buyout. That is way too many taxpayer dollars to spend without a referendum to see if our citizens really want to put the Gulf Power buyout in front of these other priorities.

The $71 million-question is: Do we want to relieve traffic, underground our utilities and give our kids their own high school? Or do we want to own an electric utility?

We can probably ease traffic congestion, underground our utilities, build our own Destin high school, and have money left over to put in our own pockets with that $71 million. We probably won’t see the suggested referendum on the ballot. We already suspect how it would turn out. However, the candidates’ names will be on the ballot. That, in and of itself, is referendum enough.

Stay tuned to The Log to “follow the money” from campaign contributors to campaign coffers. The future of our city depends on it.

Jack Simpson has owned and managed rental properties in Destin since 1974 and has lived in the city since 1983. His column is designed to start conversations in the community. To respond to Jack’s column in The Log, email your letter to the editor or guest column to dricketts@thedestinlog.com. To contact Jack directly, email jacksimpson@cox.net.