LOOK BACK, LOOK AHEAD: City councilors reflect on 2015, look ahead to 2016

Staff Reporter
The Destin Log
Jim Wood, Prebble Ramswell, Jim Foreman, Tuffy Dixon and Cyron Marler.

With 2015 behind us, The Log asked the seven members of the Destin City Council to reflect on the top accomplishments from the year that was, as well identifying the city's top priorities for 2016.

Council members are: Rodney Braden, Tuffy Dixon, Jim Foreman, Cyron Marler, Prebble Ramswell, Sandy Trammell and Jim Wood. Councilors Braden and Trammell did not respond to The Log's inquiry.

Accomplishments for 2015

 Dixon:

1) Receiving funding for and starting the design of Norriego Point. This will help protect our harbor and provide a beautiful park for residents and visitors.

2) Receiving word that we will be getting a new park on Calhoun Ave (Leonard Destin Park). This park will have ample parking and will feature a splash pad for children and will be designed for kayak launching and other outdoor activities.

3) Completing the reconstruction of Kelly Street.

4) Getting the Cross Town Connector started. This project has the potential of reducing traffic on U.S. Highway 98 and allowing locals an easier means of travel.

5) While I know it was somewhat controversial. Updating the Comprehensive Plan, I like the fact that we eliminated Tier III development and reduced building height, building intensity and density.

Foreman:

1) Norriego Point Stabilization involves almost $13 million in funding designed to permanently harden the point against erosion.

2) Restore Act involving funding from the BP spill. Destin has been approved for two projects including complete renovation of Clement Taylor Park and completion of Heritage Park.

3) Completion of amendments to the 2020 Comprehensive Plan. This plan is the foundation for future land use with elements that cover transportation, economic development, recreation and other components of growth.

4) Master plan for storm water improvements. During the year the city has received grant funding that targets improvements that deal with flooding in the Heritage Run and Indian Bayou Subdivisions.

5) Code Enforcement has been expanded based on the recommendation of a public workshop conducted early in the year. A full time code enforcement officer has been added to the staff. The city has also added a magistrate to conduct hearings on offenders who fail to comply with citations.

Marler:

1) Chapter 1 of 2020 Comp plan first reading: Finally after much debate, meetings, and give and takes we were able to pass our first reading and send it to the state for approval; not over yet but we are getting there.

2) Kelly Street project: Dangerous curve fixed, wider and improved sidewalks, new smoother surface, new drainage systems, a much needed and safer roadway.

3) Regulating short term rentals: Keeping our city clean and safe for our visitors and our citizens is one reason that I am glad we passed this. Plus we can help our citizens and guests have a pleasant time while enjoying our beautiful city.

4) Regulating our neighborhoods: Although beauty is in the eye of the beholder, there is a point when it becomes an eyesore. The rules that we have now put in place will not only make it more eye appealing, but it will show our visitors how much we love the look of our city

5) Dog Park improvements(lights): With our city/public partnership we are able to give our canine friends and their owners longer times to run and play and make new friends.

Ramswell:

1) TDC Bed Tax Funding: For fiscal year 2014, Okaloosa’s bed taxes were up 9.3 percent to $14.7 million. Destin consistently accounts for the majority of bed tax dollars collected in Okaloosa County – typically 65-70 percent. I continue to believe that a proportional reinvestment of those dollars is not only fair but necessary. This year we were able to secure approximately $400,000 of these funds for reuse in Destin to fund beach park access maintenance, operations and repair. This was a good start but, I hope, only the beginning.

2) Stormwater/Drainage Grants: Our city continues to suffer from a woefully inadequate and failing stormwater and drainage system which has led to significant flooding and property damage. Thanks to a NFWF grant of $3.6 million, and a $500,000 grant from the state due to the efforts of Senator Don Gaetz and Representative Matt Gaetz, Destin has begun addressing these issues. I eagerly await implementation of additional repairs and improvements as this is one situation where each day that passes is another day too long.

3) Code Improvements: An ongoing and growing concern has been the number of properties in Destin with excessive storage and inoperable vehicles in front yards. One main problem was the lack of teeth in our codes to remedy such situations. This year the council and staff worked diligently to fortify and add necessary language to our codes so that we can begin addressing these issues. This effort, in conjunction with the next accomplishment, should help our city tremendously.

4) Code Enforcement Online System Implementation: City staff has been hard at work implementing a new online system to facilitate the reporting and tracking of code enforcement complaints. This system makes reporting and tracking complaints, as well as the actual issuing of citations by our code enforcement officers, far easier and more efficient. People can log in and check the status and history of complaints and violations or file a complaint online. Our officers will have significantly reduced paperwork and easier management of their cases which will allow for greater time in the field addressing existing issues and proactively addressing others.

5) Short-term Rental Changes: A persistent issue is short-term rental complaints. Destin has a significant number of properties used as short-term rentals. Many are properly and well-managed, but many are not. Many private homes have failed to register as required by the city and still others do not abide by required terms such as having a local contact person.

Further, many other issues stem from excessive occupancy of these rentals such as illegal parking, noise and trash. This year the council voted to address these problems by increasing the short-term registration fee and hiring a dedicated short-term rental code enforcement officer. This officer will be able to focus on rental-associated issues, freeing our other officers to focus on other code enforcement issues. I have great expectations for improved quality of life for our residents as a result of these efforts.

Wood:

1) Final plan and advancement of $750,000 to construct five pedestrian crosswalks across U.S. Highway 98: Critical to pedestrian safety throughout the 98 corridor in Destin.

2) Code Enforcement Action Plan: Will provide enhanced code enforcement standards consistent with citizen desires for the last 6-8 years.

3) RESTORE ACT Pot 1 Funds: Important funds for both Royal Melvin Heritage Park on the harbor as well as upgrading Calhoun Park. Both will be welcomed additions to our ever-expanding city parks system.

4) Citizen Serve Code Enforcement On-Line Tools and Access: Provides elected official and citizen access to on-line records and provides staff with record keeping efficiencies that should enhance overall Code Enforcement and records accuracy.

5) Bond Refinancing: Lowered our public financing debt and frees up general fund money for other important needs.

Priorities for 2016

Dixon:

1) Pedestrian crossing's for U.S. Highway 98.

2) Getting the derelict vessels removed from the harbor and Joe's Bayou.

3) Establishing a Harbor Masters position within the city with ordinances that will prevent our waterways from becoming a dump for unwanted boats.

4) Enhance code enforcement regulations to allow code enforcement officers to more effectively do their jobs.

5) Start work on the development of Norriego Point.

Foreman:

1) Widening of U.S. Highway 98 from the Walton County line to Airport Road will be in early stages.

2) Repair and replacement of U.S. 98 through the city will begin. Five new pedestrian crossings are planned that will substantially improve safety.

3) Cross Town Connector that provides an alternative route through Destin will be a priority.

4) Planning to expand the Harbor Boardwalk will continue.

5) Updating the Town Center Community Redevelopment plan will look at improving the quality of commercial development in Destin’s main commercial district.

Marler:

1) Chapter 1 2020 comp plan adoption: Passing the second reading of our plan so we can begin to plan and implement our vision for our city for the next 10 years.

2) Parks, Parks and more Parks: Building and using our new parks, Royal Melvin and Leonard Destin Park, and more parks.

3) Traffic and safety on Hwy 98: Crosswalks built and traffic calming to keep our citizens and visitors safe.

4) The start of the Norriego Point Project: Time to turn some sand and get the ball rolling.

5) Whatever we can do to keep our Harbor and Crab Island safe and clean: Work with the state and county to make these areas safe for our citizens and visitors.

Ramswell:

1) Norriego Point: 2016 is the year that Norriego Point should begin to reap the benefits of the NRDA grant. Phase I of the project is now scheduled to begin after the high season with the stabilization (or “hardening”) of the point. I know that completion of this project is much anticipated in addition to being much needed.

2) 98/Harbor Blvd Pedestrian Crossings: As we all know, crossing 98 in a car can be daunting; crossing on foot is nothing short of dangerous. Residents, staff and council have worked tirelessly with FDOT to obtain approval for and begin construction on five pedestrian crossings along Harbor Blvd. With a goal of completion by Memorial Day, I anxiously await their implementation to provide greater safety for our residents and tourists.

3) New Parks and Enhancements: Thanks to grants from Florida Communities Trust and the RESTORE act, Destin has two new parks on the horizon and a significant enhancement to our existing Calhoun Park. Heritage Park and Leonard Destin Park should be spectacular additions to the city with a range of amenities for all to enjoy.

4) High School: Discussions regarding a high school in Destin have not died down nor gone away. In fact, I continue to be approached on a regular basis about the overwhelming desire for us to have a high school of some type. I have spoken with business leaders in Destin and other parts of Florida who also have an interest in making this vision a reality. I fully believe that a high school in Destin would be a significant benefit to the city with far-reaching positive community impact.

5) Pool: As the former Destin Y pool falls into disrepair, I watch with mixed emotions at the reinvention and grand opening of the former Fort Walton Y pool. This major feat shows what a community can accomplish together. It is in this vein, I hope we (the property owner, the bank, the city, the community)can make the re-opening of the Destin pool or the construction of a new pool a reality. In a city surrounded by water, with a thriving family and athletic community and steadily increasing number of children, a lack of a public swimming pool is a tragedy. A pool in Destin should be a priority for all of us.

Wood:

1) Pedestrian Crossings for Highway 98: Funds advanced in 2015 ($750,000). Complete construction of all five (target date: Memorial Day). Will provide safe pedestrian crossings at critical points throughout the Highway 98 corridor in Destin.

2) Begin Norriego Point Stabilization Construction: The culmination of a 20-plus year desire to provide enhanced protection for our harbor and increased recreational opportunities for the public.

3) Heritage Run and Indian Bayou Storm water Drainage Upgrades: Critical to local flooding issues and overall community water quality.

4) Construction of RESTORE and NRDA Financed Parks: Royal Melvin Park on the harbor, Calhoun Park and the new NRDA Leonard Destin Park. Collectively world class additions to our city park system.

5) Completion of COMP PLAN 2020 with all Land Development Code Upgrades to Ensure Consistency of Our City Planning Data:Important in providing consistency and predictability to businesses and residents in Destin and a road-map for our future.