The process of incorporation is detailed, collaborative and orderly. When a community wants to incorporate, a charter is drafted that details how the municipal government will be structured. This charter is part of a local bill that is presented to the Florida state legislature for approval and then signed by the governor. Local bills are special legislative acts directed at specific locales. For South Walton, the decision to incorporate would then be put to a referendum of all South Walton voters. A Better South Walton (ABSW) has drafted a preliminary charter for South Walton’s incorporation. Once this initial draft is completed, public meetings will be held so the community can provide feedback on the draft and propose revisions for the final version.
Frequently Asked Questions
These FAQ’s will be updated and refined as the process continues, additional information becomes available and the public’s values are better understood.
Q1: Who is A Better South Walton?
A: A Better South Walton (ABSW) is a non-partisan movement led by a diverse volunteer team of local citizens who are passionate about the future of South Walton. Biographical information on the Board of Directors (BOD) of ABSW is available on the ABSW team page.
Q2: Why did A Better South Walton come together?
A: To help shape the future of the rapidly changing community we love. South Walton is growing rapidly and the founders of ABSW were concerned with the lack of leadership in planning for and managing that growth effectively. It came down to wanting local residents committed to bettering South Walton to be the ones making decisions for our community.
Q3: What role will the ABSW Board of Directors play in the decisions made by a new municipality?
A: No role. The role of the ABSW BOD is to research, gather information and educate the South Walton community on whether or not incorporation is feasible for South Walton. The goal of ABSW is to give the residents of South Walton the opportunity to vote on becoming our own municipality and finally empowering the community to have a more decisive and larger say in how South Walton is led.
If South Walton votes yes to create a municipality, candidates from the community seeking to serve on the new municipal council will apply, campaign and be elected by our community. It is these locally elected representatives who will make the ongoing decisions for South Walton with input from the citizens – not the BOD of ABSW.
Effective government depends as much on having an engaged citizenry as it does on having good representation. If South Walton forms its own local government, there will be a lot of work to do and it will take the significant involvement of the citizens to set the right course for our beloved community.
Q4: What potential solutions to address South Walton’s needs were considered?
A: Potential solutions considered were:
- Establishing special planning district(s)
- Incorporation as a municipality
- Increasing representation for South Walton at the county level
- Revising current Land Development Codes and Comprehensive Plans to reflect the needs of South Walton going forward
- Adopting of a “home rule” charter for Walton County as a whole
- Combining of two or more of these solutions
Q5: How could a local municipal government solve our concerns?
A: A local municipal government could provide:
- Increased local representation with South Walton perspective and stewardship as a prime motivator
- Local control over local issues including planning, growth management and code enforcement
- More resources available for additional investment in local infrastructure
- A greater voice in the fair and equitable allocation of tax revenues generated by South Walton
- A voice representing South Walton when working with important regional agencies, governing boards and committees
Q6: Are there other municipalities incorporated in Walton County?
- DeFuniak Springs: incorporated 1901; estimated population: 5,600
- Freeport: incorporated 1963; estimated population: 2,700
- Paxton: incorporated 1952; estimated population: 700
Q7: What is South Walton’s population, tax base and number of voters as part of Walton County overall?
A: South Walton makes up approximately 23,800 (nearly 40%) of the county’s overall population of approximately 63,500 (source: US Census Bureau 2015). According to the Walton County Taxpayers Association, 89% of property taxes generated in Walton County in 2016 were generated in South Walton. Based on information from the Walton County Supervisor of Elections office as of October 13th, 2016, of the county’s 46,261 registered voters, South Walton makes up 22,184 (nearly 48%).
Q8: If South Walton is incorporated as a municipality, will my taxes go up?
A: The recommendation of ABSW is to keep taxes low while supporting a lean, effective and responsive municipal government. The fiscal analysis section of the Feasibility Study and the Study Summary in the Document Center of the ABSW website address the potential impact, if any, on taxes. The study shows that the Town of South Walton can be funded almost entirely by the receipt of the town’s share of State Shared Revenues. If the citizens of the South Walton municipality, as represented by the municipal council, desire more services or increased service levels beyond what is funded today or covered by the Five-year Operational Plan shown in the Feasibility Study, then additional funds will be needed. It will be the decision of the municipal council under advisement of the residents of South Walton as to where to get the additional funds. Sources could include grants, new or revised fees, or ad valorem taxes. Recognizing the extra scrutiny and support that should be needed for any ad valorem tax change, the proposed charter for South Walton includes provisions for a supermajority vote of the council members to levy or increase municipal ad valorem taxes.
Q9: If South Walton is incorporated as a municipality, will that mean bigger government?
A: Incorporation would lead to citizens having a bigger voice in their local government. This would not necessarily lead to bigger government but rather a replacement government for services the municipality chose to take on. Those services would be locally delivered and not duplicated at the county level.
Q10: If South Walton incorporates and takes planning services into the municipality, will developers and property owners have to get their projects approved by the county and the municipality?
A: No. Projects will only go to the new municipality for approvals.
Q11: If South Walton is incorporated as a municipality, will our county ad valorem taxes still go to the county?
A: Yes. Walton County will still levy and collect ad valorem taxes from South Walton property owners as Walton County taxpayers to support county-wide services. County-wide millage rates will remain a county decision; however, we will have a municipal council negotiating for our fair share of the funds being invested back into the area by the County.
Q12: How might A Better South Walton’s efforts benefit me?
A: The result will be local government that is closer to the people and is focused clearly on planning for and managing South Walton’s future. Everyone – from long-standing locals to visitors – benefits from the preservation and enhancement of our area’s unique character, property values and quality of life. These benefits will create a better experience for citizens and visitors while strengthening the return on investment for our residents, second homeowners and local business owners.
Q13: What would the new city be called?
A: Based on the 2016 ABSW survey, the Town of South Walton was selected as the new municipality’s name. The Village of South Walton was a popular choice; however, it was discovered that a community in South Walton is already named the Village of South Walton. In order to avoid any potential conflicts or confusion, the Town of South Walton was chosen.
Q14: How would incorporation impact the TDC?
A: The new municipality will have significant influence on various issues with the county, regional planning, the state and the federal government. The new town council will consist of local residents elected and accountable to focus specifically on the issues and opportunities of South Walton. With the exception of services that the new municipality takes on – services that would replace similar services provided by Walton County today (such as Planning and Code Enforcement) – Walton County, the TDC, and regional entities would continue operating with responsibilities as currently defined. However, the new municipality can, at the discretion of the new town council (acting on the wishes of the South Walton residents), augment services provided by the county or TDC.
The TDC is of particular interest in this regard as the TDC’s concern, authority, and responsibilities significantly impact the land, infrastructure, people and businesses of South Walton. The working relationship with the TDC will be one of the first orders of business for the newly elected town council. While the TDC is established and governed by separate Florida statutes and under the oversight of the Walton County commissioners, the new municipality would seek every effective way to influence and partner with the TDC for the long term benefit of all of South Walton. The municipality would immediately be granted one seat on the TDC Advisory Council for a municipal elected official as mandated by Florida State Statute.
Q15: What role would the municipality play regarding customary use and the public’s right to access the beaches?
A: As the beach property in question is within the boundaries of the new municipality, the new town council could, subject to Florida law, act in any way it saw fit to protect and enhance the interest of all stakeholders including local citizens, property holders and visitors. However, the new municipality would not automatically become a party in the County’s actions or liabilities related to customary use and beach access. It will be the courts, local and state, that will ultimately determine the application of customary use to the beaches in Walton County.
Q16: What could the municipality do to increase the number of public beach accesses?
A: The new town council could be a strong advocate with the County to establish more public beach access parks in South Walton with facilities and parking. Additionally, if resources were available the new municipality could buy land and establish municipal beach parks with access and facilities.
Q17: What impact would incorporation have on the school system in our community?
A: If South Walton is incorporated, its elected leaders will not have any direct authority to govern our local public school system. The education system will still be governed and funded at a state and school district level. The Walton County School District and Superintendent of schools will still dictate policy and the state will allocate funding in its budget for the county school system. While a new town government will not be able to make decisions for our schools, it will provide a powerful platform for citizens to address local school issues. The mayor and town council members will speak up for South Walton when it comes to local needs and funding. In short, it provides a place at the table when it comes to making sure that local needs are being addressed at a state and county level. Our growing population of year-round residents requires good planning for our schools as the number of students continues to rise.
Q18: What impact would incorporation have on existing neighborhood plans?
A: The neighborhood plans in place today are part of the county’s existing Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code for land use. As detailed in the charter, the new municipality will adopt the county’s existing Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code at the time of incorporation. The new municipal council will have the authority to approve applications of plans and codes, including all exceptions. The new municipality’s priority will be creating a new local Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code to meet the specific needs of the South Walton area’s citizens and property owners. It will be the new town council, directed by its constituents, that will oversee the incorporation of the existing neighborhood plans into the new plans and codes.
Q19: Can’t we just get more county commissioners elected from South Walton?
A: This is a question that gets asked often. Redistricting is a defined process based upon census counts of residents. With the current county district boundaries or potential future boundaries, the county commissioners are elected at large across the county. It will remain very difficult to elect a sufficient number of commissioners who live in and will focus on the needs of South Walton. By comparison, the town council of a new South Walton municipality would all be South Walton residents elected entirely by registered voters of South Walton. This local council would focus on and deal solely with South Walton planning, issues and opportunities.
Q20: Is ABSW pursuing incorporation to stop growth/development and slow down tourism in South Walton?
A: No. ABSW is supportive of growth, smart development and tourism. The goal is to have realistic planning for growth along with processes, codes and enforcement in place to manage growth in such a way that the character, quality of life and property values are respected and preserved. The objective will be to provide certainty, clarity and predictability for builders, developers and homeowners as well as the consistent application of our codes. Current and projected tourism levels and projected growth in permanent population put a heavy strain on the infrastructure of a community like South Walton. Planning and smart, proactive infrastructure management will keep South Walton attractive and desirable as a residential and vacation destination for many years to come.
Q21: What impact would incorporation have on our current emergency response services — the County Sheriff, the Fire Department, ambulance and lifeguards?
A: No impact is proposed. The Town of South Walton will be served by the same Walton County emergency response agencies as now, including the South Walton Fire District and the Walton County Sheriff’s Office based on our assumptions. The new municipal council will work with the county to monitor and adjust services and service levels as South Walton evolves.
Q22: The county has a project underway currently to update the master plan for land development. Why don’t we just wait and see what they come up with before creating the Town of South Walton and developing new land development plans and codes?
A: The county’s Comprehensive Plan (CP) and Land Development Code (LDC) update project may provide some improvements that are important to South Walton. One of the primary goals of the project is to bring the CP and LDC into better alignment with each other. Citizens of South Walton should do what they can to get the concerns and priorities of South Walton reflected in the work of the update project. There are many benefits of incorporation that have been described in ABSW presentations and documents. Updates to the CP and LDC that consider the needs of South Walton are certainly one of the highest priorities for the Town of South Walton. However, creating proactive long term plans and consistent, principle driven interpretation and application of the plans and codes is perhaps even more important. The current process is flawed due to a variety of factors including how variances and changes are approved, the impact of development projects’ assessment, and enforcement accountability.
In short, the current CP and LDC update project may not sufficiently address the serious concerns facing the future of South Walton in the Planning and Code Enforcement areas. We should keep our options open. While monitoring the County’s CP and LDC update project, we should push forward with efforts to allow the citizens of South Walton to vote on incorporation.
Q23: Is this an effort to further divide the northern and southern portions of the county?
A: No. When the other municipalities in Walton County formed, their incorporation did not divide them from the rest of the county. We believe the creation of the Town of South Walton will help unite the county so we can work together with the county and the other municipalities on county-wide initiatives that benefit all of Walton County. ABSW has no intention of separating from or dividing the county. The citizens and property owners in South Walton will continue to be a significant part of Walton County, paying taxes and receiving county services. This is about doing what is best for our community and the county in the long run.