ESTO – One little town in north Holmes County may be small, but they dream big. The Esto Town Council is taking big steps to making the town a better place for their residents and a destination for visitors to come and enjoy.

One of the first steps taken was to set up a Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA).

A CRA is a dependent special district established pursuant to State law by local government. A CRA focuses attention and resources in a specific area characterized by blight and disinvestment. By establishing a CRA, Esto can take advantage of financial and planning tools provided under State law. These tools can help create programs and projects to foster private market investment in the CRA .As property values increase within the CRA, taxes collected above the original baseline stay in that CRAs, to be used to make improvements. The idea for Esto is to take the set aside funds to improve the town as a whole.

Another step taken by the council was to gain a Brownfield designation. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines a brownfield as real property, the expansion, redevelopment, or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant. By gaining the designation, Esto is considered in blight by EPA definition and would benefit from the designation to aid in cleanup and turn the value of land into a more profitable place.

Esto is the smallest town in Florida to have a CRA and the only town in Holmes County to have a Brownfield designation.

Many new ordinances have been put into place to help with the improvements with even more on the horizon. The first one came in the response to nuisances throughout the town. Since the ordinance has been adopted, hearings have been held holding residents accountable for their part. Cleanup has begun in earnest.

New water lines have already been installed throughout the town with future plans for a brand new sewage system to go with it.

The council is in negotiations with West Florida Electric Cooperative (WFEC) to place streetlights around the park areas to make a safer environment for residents.

Improvements to John Clark Park and E.W. Carswell Park are also in the works. Cleaning up around the pond and refurbishing the dock are on the top of the list. The hope is to make the parks an inviting place for families to come and enjoy a day of fun.

With a population of 385 residents in a five square mile radius, Esto is the only town in Holmes County to see a 5 percent population increase in the past year.

With growth comes many different needs to accommodate the increase in population. Those needs include, housing and retail businesses.

In the past year several new businesses have opened to include, Dollar General Store, an ice cream parlor and a restaurant. One of the goals the council hopes to achieve by spring of 2018 is a Farmers Market where residents can buy goods from local farmers.

Five year goals include having all streets in town repaved, affordable housing, and more retail businesses specifically a grocery store.

“We want better lives for our residents,” said Councilman John Hagans. “We don’t want to change the town, we just want to improve it.”