In February 2017, A Better South Walton (ABSW) pulled the South Walton incorporation referendum local bill from consideration during the 2017 Florida Legislative session. ABSW pulled the bill because from all indications our local delegation did not support incorporation or even allowing the citizens the right to vote on incorporation. Without local delegation support for at least the right to vote, the possibility of getting a referendum on the ballot for incorporation had no chance of success. Many people saw the need for change, wanted the opportunity to vote on incorporation, and many felt that incorporation was the most viable approach for achieving a better future for South Walton. ABSW is extremely disappointed that the citizens of South Walton didn’t even get the chance to debate and vote on incorporation.
Since February, ABSW has stepped back and reflected on how best to move forward to address the real concerns of many of our citizens and visitors about the future of South Walton. This is an amazing place with a distinctive character and charm that draws over 3 million visitors per year and whose permanent resident base increases annually. Our growing community presents unique challenges that require the community to consider new ideas. The work of ABSW during 2015 and 2016 showed that if the voters of South Walton want to make changes for more effective governance through local representation, it can be done.
Current ABSW Philosophy
While much could be done within the current Walton County structure to address the critical needs of South Walton and the county as a whole, ABSW continues to believe that incorporation is still the best approach for achieving the local representation that is vital for the future of South Walton. Local representation means people who live and work in the area and are elected by local voters make the important decisions that determine the future of South Walton. These local representatives would then be singularly focused on the opportunities and issues that impact South Walton and accountable solely to those whose lives and livelihoods are clearly dependent upon their actions.
Plans for the Future
As we believed that the political timing was still not the best for success, an updated Feasibility Study, Charter and draft local bill were not submitted to the Florida Legislature for consideration during their 2018 session. Therefore, the next opportunity for legislative consideration of incorporation in South Walton will be during the 2019 legislative session.
ABSW has developed a wealth of information regarding the incorporation process in Florida, the specifics about the feasibility metrics required for success including municipal services and funding, alternate approaches for a Charter and governing model, the benefits as well as the risks of incorporation, and many other details that will be useful when the timing is better for an incorporation movement. That knowledge base will be available for a future attempt to bring incorporation of South Walton to a vote of the people. Additionally, over the coming months ABSW intends to continue the dialogue by organizing a series of community forums on topics related to local representation and incorporation. The more the people of South Walton know about the possibilities, the better prepared they will be when the environment is more conducive for success and therefore the time is right to act.
Thank You to Supporters
ABSW wishes to thank all those who have contributed their time, energy and resources to help ABSW explore the possibilities and dialogue with the people of South Walton regarding the opportunities and risks thus far.
February 13, 2018 – ABSW continues work to explore ideas for more effective and responsive governance as South Walton grows. Our primary goal is to give the residents of South Walton a new, transparent view of a forward-looking vision for our community.
South Walton is an amazing place with a distinctive character and charm that draws over 3 million visitors per year and whose permanent resident base increases annually. Our growing community presents unique challenges that require the community to consider new ideas.
Through the support of our many volunteers and donors, over the past two years ABSW has held 13 public town hall meetings and charter workshops along with over 25 smaller meetings with various organizations and community groups. Numerous discussions were held with state and local elected officials and staff. We’re proud to have developed a feasibility study and charter showing that if the voters of South Walton want to bring decision making closer to home, it can be done.
With the incorporation of the Town of South Walton becoming a mainstream idea, our residents continue to share ideas as they envision life with local leadership. This important decision for our community requires ongoing close examination and critical reflection as the opportunities, benefits and risks are further considered. In the coming months ABSW will continue to work with our state and local representatives to come together for a better South Walton. We are planning a series of community forums including experts from others cities that will help us all understand our choice. The schedule will be announced soon. ABSW will continue to strive to bring the most current information to our community as we gain new insights from meetings and discussions with our residents, the county, the state and other municipalities.
ABSW will always represent South Walton as this special community demands, with open ears and an open mind. As always, we welcome your ideas and appreciate your support as we forge a new vision for this place we all love and call South Walton.
SANTA ROSA BEACH, FL – October 10, 2016 – A Better South Walton (ABSW) is pleased to announce the next stage of incorporation has begun with the submission of the completed charter to the Florida State Legislature.
Creation of the charter began several months ago as part of the overall decision to explore solutions for the rapid expansion of South Walton. After a comprehensive feasibility study identified the area as a prime candidate for incorporation, the charter was drafted as a next step in determining the framework for the proposed new government.
Multiple charter workshops were held in recent months to gather feedback from the community and incorporate key ideas into the draft charter for inclusion in the full version. Several key components of the charter were updated to include residents’ ideas for improvement, such as:
- Creating term limits for council members of two consecutive terms
- Modifying the vice mayor’s term to two years
- Defining the replacement process for council members who move out of their district prior to their term’s end
- Modifying the required Council vote needed to levy a municipal ad valorem tax to require a supermajority vote to levy or increase an ad valorem tax rather than to levy or change an ad valorem tax
- Limiting maximum municipal ad valorem taxes to 2.5 mills
- Requiring a run off election if no council candidate receives a majority vote for a particular seat during regular elections
- Allowing council members to increase their salaries, but restricting these changes to take effect two years after the next council election
With the charter and its submission complete, the next step on the path to incorporation is the creation and filing of a local bill containing the charter into the legislative process by South Walton’s State Representative. This local bill will include a request for a local vote by the residents of South Walton on whether or not to incorporate.
“The suggestions made by the residents of South Walton have greatly strengthened the charter and made pivotal improvements to the proposed governing framework,” states David Pleat, president of A Better South Walton. “We are proud of our neighbors’ commitment to bettering South Walton and their support in preserving and sustaining our unique way of life.”
For complete details on the full charter and a summary of its key elements, both documents may be accessed on the ABSW website.
To lend your support to the ABSW effort, please take 20 seconds to sign the online petition requesting the right to vote on the issue of incorporation.
For additional information on how you can volunteer or make a donation, please visit A Better South Walton or email ABSW.
About A Better South Walton:
A Better South Walton (ABSW) is made up of a diverse group of citizen volunteers who share a commitment to bettering South Walton. ABSW’s mission is to seek more effective governance and local representation for South Walton through incorporation to preserve and enhance the area’s unique character, property values and quality of life.