District 4 county commission candidates participate in Destin forum

Matt Algarin
The three men running for the District 4 county commission seat are, from left, Don Amunds, Trey Goodwin and Henry Kelley.

The three men running for the District 4 seat on the Okaloosa County Commission spent Thursday night sharing their views with Destin residents.

As part of a candidate forum sponsored by the Destin Area Chamber of Commerce and The Destin Log, Don Amunds, Trey Goodwin and Henry Kelley made their case to a few dozen audience members for why they should be the next commissioner.

All registered voters in Okaloosa County can cast a ballot for this race, which will pay the winner a salary of $67,620. Carolyn Ketchel already secured her District 2 seat as she was unopposed.

As for the questions, they were a mixed bag, ranging from stormwater issues and quality of life to the Inlet Management Plan for East Pass and economic diversification. Answers appear in the order the candidates spoke.

Given the tremendous amounts of rain that drenched the area in April and May, stormwater was a natural topic.

"This is my single-most driving issue," said Kelley, a 48-year old Mary Esther resident. "What we have to do is setup a dedicated funding source; we need to spend upwards of $50-75 million, now."

Kelly said the key was to find money that can be used now, not waiting for funds from the BP oil spill to become available.

For Goodwin, an attorney, hitting the pavement has proved to offer the best way forward.

"I've been talking to our residents about what is important to them and in those areas that were affected by the flooding, there is a big concern about the lack of maintenance for our infrastructure," he said. "I advocate that we look hard at those BP dollars, but also that we allocate some money now to get some of these things done."

As the incumbent, Amunds said the county has already begun to look into the matter with various funding options.

"We the gas tax, we can use the money for stormwater and we can use it for roads, as long as there is a nexus between the two," he said. "Right now the U.S. Treasury says that BP money cannot be used for certain items, stormwater being one of them but things change over time."

On a related topic, the county commission hopefuls were asked about quality of life, more specifically how funding could be secured for beach lifeguards, sheriff's patrols and unpaved roads.

"This is really the issue of what it means to be a county commissioner; to make the hard decisions," he said. "Now both of my opponents have proudly said they won't support any tax increases, but both of them have a record of where the city council in Fort Walton Beach and the county commission raised taxes while they were an elected official."

Kelly went on to say a "serious solution" must be found, and one of those solutions may include "revenue increases."

"We need to have leadership that's willing to lead this county into the future."

For his part, Goodwin acknowledged funding issues, but said raising taxes may not be the answer.

"One thing I'm concerned about is that the answer is to look at a sales tax referendum, and my biggest concern is that we all know that's not going to pass in Okaloosa County. I've been looking for real solutions... we need to start working on those issues now that have funding from the gas tax, from the MSBU (municipal services benefit unit).

When it comes to quality of life, for Amunds the key was to create an environment where job creation can occur naturally. He said this can be done by keeping taxes low and affordable for people on a fixed income.

"I think we have a lot of terrific qualities," he said. "At the end of the day,  when people are trying to buy homes or live here on a fixed income, Destin doesn't have a big pick of labor pools, as they have to come from Fort Walton, so the better we can keep house payments lower, the more people can afford to live out here and create jobs."

When it comes to the Inlet Management Plan for East Pass, a reader submitted a question asking the candidates if they approved of the provisions that allow for dredged sand to be placed on beaches on either side of the pass depending on where it's needed.

All three candidates shared the same answer, "yes."

"If we don't have beaches, we don't have tourists; the tourists don't come down here just to eat in our restaurants and shop in our shops, they come here for the beaches," Amunds said. "There has been all sorts of discussions about which different ways the sand flows with the current and so forth, but at the end of the day, the sand needs to go to the beaches that are most critically eroded."

Citing a portion of the city of Destin's mission statement, Kelly told the crowd of about 30-plus that he "supports the city of Destin."

"We need to protect and make sure that those things are done properly," he said. "As long as the sand quality matches what we have, then I wholeheartedly support the effort."

While he didn't claim to be a "hydrologist or engineer," Goodwin said he supports good science and I do support common sense."

"I think that it makes sense, when we dredge, that the sand goes to the area with the greatest need."

Early voting is already underway and Destin residents can cast their ballot through Aug. 23 at the Destin Community Center, 101 Stahlman Avenue. Early voting is available from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

For more information about where to vote in the Aug. 26 election, visit www.govote-okaloosa.com.