CHIPLEY — The Washington County Board of County Commissioners considered whether or not to give the Sunny Hills MSBU its own website during Thursday’s meeting in Chipley.
The board had discussed the possibility of creating a website which would keep Sunny Hills residents apprised of the financial standing of the MSBU’s funds, Board Chairman Alan Bush said. The proposed website would cost about $90 a year to host — although the county no longer has an IT person to keep up the website.
“At first I thought it was a good idea,” Commissioner Joel Pate said. “But I don’t think we can really be paying anyone to be making a website.”
The board voted earlier this summer, after several months’ discussion, to do away with the MSBU as soon as possible, and to put all available funds toward paying off Sunny Hills’ loan debt.
The Municipal Service Benefit Unit, or MSBU, is an ordinance-created tax district. Within that area, funds are raised to provide services to the residents in that designated region. However, the MSBU is not an entity unto itself.
The MSBU is a mechanism by which a county can fund a particular service or facility that provides a special benefit to property from a levy of special assessments.
Currently, the county collects $31.25 a year from residents and property owners within the MSBU, and that money is used to provide services to those living in Sunny Hills, as well as pay down the $1.66 million in debt — a loan that is not scheduled to be paid off until 2028.
The board reduced services to lighting, some contracted mowing, and intends to put all the remaining money raised by the MSBU toward paying off the community’s debt.
“I know $96 doesn’t sound like a lot of money, but my thought process was on the website itself,” Commissioner Todd Abbott said. “We already have a county website. Why can’t we post that information ourselves and save that money?”
Abbott said it was a good idea to have the financials of the MSBU publicized so the community can track where its fees are going and how the debt is being paid off.
“I think it was a very good suggestion on Commissioner (Lynn) Gothard’s behalf,” he said.
“Who dictates what goes on the county website?” Commissioner Charles Brock asked. “Who is in charge of it now?”
County Coordinator David Corbin is now in charge of the county websites since he is doing the duties of the former county manager, Brock was told.
“The county website hasn’t been updated in months,” said Gothard. “It still has Steve Joyner listed as the county manager.”
“I may have a solution,” Bush said. “Can I have a motion that we will put the MSBU information out there as soon as we can find a way of handling the website postings to the website?”
Bush said that the county was still in the process of dividing up tasks since the loss of the county IT person, as well as the human resources director and the administrative secretary.
“Lets agree that this is a good idea and we’ll make it happen once we get through this transition,” Bush said.
The board voted in favor of the motion, except for Gothard, who voted “no.”
Consultant Bill Williams with SCG Governmental Affairs of Tallahassee also appeared before the board to give an update on the progress toward securing RESTORE Act funding for Washington County.
RESTORE Act funds are federally controlled funds resulting from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 and which are coming from fines levied against BP for their part in the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.
“We were waiting on the Treasury rulings, which came down last week, and we were not precluded,” Williams told the board. Williams was hired in March to serve as the county’s consultant in its bid for RESTORE Act money.
“Now we are much closer to having a strong position, with the work of the Water Management District and the Regional Planning Council,” Williams said.
The entire state of Florida was declared an impacted coastal zone, and the region that will be eligible for funding may stretch 25-30 miles north into Alabama.
The more the Panhandle counties work together, the stronger their claim will be for project funding from the RESTORE Act, Williams said.
This was Williams’ first update of the board since he was hired to act as consultant on the county’s behalf for a $5,000 fee.
“I, for one, would like to be updated at least once a month,” Abbott told Williams. “Whether it is by email or you coming and meeting with us, I would like be kept better informed about what is going on.”
“You’re leading the pack in this area,” Williams said.