CHIPLEY – Washington County Commissioners on Wednesday approved a 5 percent franchise fee Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative (GCEC). The action comes nearly four months after commissioners voted to enact the fee for Gulf Power and West Florida Electric Cooperative.

GCEC customers in the unincorporated portions of Washington County will see the fee on their utility bills in either February or March.

Established by a legal process outlined in Florida statute, the fee is contract between the county and area utility companies that outlines the companies’ use of the county’s public right-of-ways. Cities can also set the structure of franchise fees. In both cases, the fees only apply for customers within the boundary of each government’s respective jurisdiction and appear as a separate item on customer bills. The utility companies then collect the fee and remits it to the appropriate government entity.

Some residents came before the board during the public hearing to voice opinions and concerns about the fee.

"All of the power companies and co-ops are going to ask for an increase and power rates," said Wallace "Copper" Nelson. "When there is a $200 light bill and add $10, there are some that can’t afford that extra ten dollars on a fixed income."

Commissioners state the fee is intended to help keep the county from increasing ad valorem taxes.

Commissioner Alan T. Bush spoke in the meeting of his hesitation to vote in favor of the fee, as well as why he made the decision to vote in favor of it.

"I voted on this very reluctantly, but I did it to reduce ad valorem," said Bush. "Whatever we can do to reduce ad valorem, to me, is a benefit. I hope that future boards will use this, not as a supplement, but as an offset."

In other business, commissioners tabled submitting a request to the state that would approve a land use designation change to the county's Future Land Use Map (FLUM) for a tract of land located at the corner of Buckhorn Boulevard and County Line Road.

The measure would change the property's classification from Planning Urban Development to Agriculture and Conservation. County Engineer Cliff Knauer advised the board of an agreement with the previous owners for an easement to be used during the paving of Buckhorn Boulevard. That project has been funded through Florida Department of Transportation in an upcoming year.

The decision was made to table the matter to allow officials time to speak with the new owners concerning an easement for the project.

Commissioners also approved three resolutions for Small County Road Assistance Program (SCRAP) projects for design phases set to be completed next year. Those roads are Obie Street, Bonnet Pond Road, and Cope Road.

Other meeting actions included:

Acceptance of a $5,414 emergency medical service grant to purchase of high visibility rain suits and airway equipment for first responders.
Approval for Vernon Fire Department to apply for a grant from Firehouse Subs to purchase a new set of jaws of life.
Re-appointment of Dana Phillips in Seat 8 and David Rich in Seat 5 of  the Tourist Development Council (TDC) and the new appointment of Chipley Mayor Tommy Sasser to fill TDC Seat 2
Approval for the Clerk of Court to pay vouchers for November totaling $2,386,144.46.

Washington County Board of County Commissioners will meet again in workshop at 9 a.m. on January 17.