Hot topics at Monday night's City Council meeting included discussions on the county’s proposed half-cent sales tax, short term rental regulations and, very briefly, the vested rights determination discussion.
Perhaps the longest discussion was among City Council members and Okaloosa County Commissioners Graham Fountain and Kelly Windes and County Administrator John Hofstad regarding the 10-year, half-cent local option sales tax that would fund much-needed infrastructure projects throughout the county if approved by voters.
Captain Charlie Nix of the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office spoke to the council on behalf of Sheriff Larry Ashley, saying that the department was in favor of the half-cent sales tax because it would help fund law enforcement improvements to include renovating the medical examiner’s office, and would also help the combat the heroin epidemic sweeping through the area.
The city of Destin would see about $1 million a year from the tax money for the 10 years. Bob Perry, Destin Chamber of Commerce’s board chairman, suggested that the money Destin received from the tax be used specifically for storm drainage issues on Commons Drive, improvements to U.S. Highway 98 at the Stahlman Avenue, and, among other things, a traffic signal at Henderson Beach Drive and Commons Drive.
Councilman Parker Destin said that the funds could be used to underground utilities and bring Destin up to speed with improvements to infrastructure. Councilman Chatham Morgan was hesitant to approve of the tax initiative until knowing how exactly the $200 million dollars would be spent.
The council voted to support the county’s half-cent tax initiative after Windes assured the council that a Destin resident and community member would be included on the five-member Citizen’s Oversight Committee. The unanimous vote secured Destin’s support for the county to add the half-cent sales tax option as a voter referendum on the 2018 general election ballot.
In other business, the council took the following action:
• Council members voted to table the vested rights discussion regarding the rights of private property owners to develop land under parameters that were approved prior to the new comprehensive plan. Council voted to first develop a proper administrative road map that can be used as a rubric to deal with future vested rights determinations.
• The council also voted unanimously to instill tougher fines on unregistered short-term rentals in Destin. If the owners of short-term rental properties register late, the city will impose a $250 per day fine until the property is within compliance of the registration rules.
City staff’s goal was to come up with the maximum punitive action that would force people to register their short-term rental properties.