The county has now hired a new director for the Tourist Development Council, the highest paid public employee of Okaloosa County. Yet, the sheriff’s requested budget, after years of laying off deputies, continues to be reduced. Meanwhile tourism, even with interim directors, continues to increase with overflow crowds on the beaches, in the restaurants, at the retail stores AND on the roads.
How many tourists are enough? Our infrastructure is way beyond capacity on a daily basis. Our law enforcement resources are minimal by any comparison to the broad range of real-world needs.
Yet the county commissioners want to raise local property taxes. They don’t want to utilize any of the reserve funds as these will be needed for post-hurricane emergencies.
It’s not the taxpayers of Okaloosa County who are outstripping the infrastructure or burdening law enforcement resources. It’s the tourists. The Sheriff’s Office has urgent budget needs. The sheriff has told us that repeatedly. Yet we hear but do not listen. But we can hire a very expensive new TDC director and not blink an eye.
Properties need to be assessed based on real-market values and taxed accordingly – independently of the broad spectrum of resources required to support the ever-increasing tourism.
The county commissioners need to consider a sales- and bed-tax increase to fully fund law enforcement requirements with their own reserves funds, as tourism increases revenues from sales and bed tax increases in real time. Property taxes should be a solid baseline of generic funding for all services. Just stop and think about the overwhelming need for storm water management throughout the county. Property taxes should be a resource for this major non-tourism critical requirement.
How many tourists are enough? Why promote tourism more when the reality is the county cannot support it?
Everett Boswell, Destin