by Julie Cumby for the Rosemary Thymes
The stunning color of the Gulf of Mexico, the pristine white sand beaches, the untouched natural beauty of the state parks and coastal dune lakes, the distinctive character of friendly towns that immediately feel like home – this is South Walton, the community stretching from the Gulf to Choctawhatchee Bay and from Miramar Beach to Inlet Beach. South Walton is a one-of-a-kind destination, more popular now than ever before and experiencing record growth. With this rapid growth that shows no signs of stopping, comes challenges that must be addressed for the long-term preservation and protection of our exceptional community.
A Better South Walton (ABSW) is a volunteer-run organization dedicated to seeking more effective governance and local representation. Focused on preserving and protecting the South Walton community and its unique way of life, ABSW has spent the last 19 months researching incorporation and the impact it would have on South Walton’s residents and visitors.
What would incorporation mean? As a resident of South Walton, it would mean having a stronger say in the decisions that affect our beautiful community and its future growth. As a visitor, it would mean seeing a more active, more local government dedicated to improving an already gorgeous area that ABSW is determined to preserve. Decisions relating to infrastructure, development, long-term planning and traffic alleviation are all pivotal topics that would be addressed by a board of local representatives.
Why is this important? If left on its current course, the growth of South Walton will exceed our ability to control it. Because there has never been a local governing body dedicated solely to South Walton, there are no long-term plans to handle the growth we are experiencing both from visiting guests and an influx of new residents. There has never been a more critical time for change in the community of South Walton.
ABSW has worked closely with an extremely skilled team of consultants to determine the feasibility of incorporating South Walton, define the benefits it would bring to our community and build a strategic action plan to execute this initiative. A feasibility study was conducted and its results concluded that South Walton is a viable candidate for incorporation. The results include a conceptual five-year operational plan for a municipal government based on data collected for the study. The actual plan will be decided by South Walton’s first municipal council, elected by the voting citizens in fall 2017. The feasibility study cited our significant population (over 23,000 estimated residents) and our fiscally strong tax base as strong drivers in this conclusion.
With the feasibility study complete, ABSW set to work drafting a charter summary that would provide the framework for the incorporated municipality of South Walton. Now complete, the charter summary outlines how the governing body will be structured and will include the proposed name for the municipality based on community feedback.
As with every step in this process, community feedback is actively encouraged and elicited. The ABSW initiative is aimed at bringing a stronger voice to the people, so community meetings have been held periodically over the past 19 months to engage residents in this process, answer their questions and gather their feedback. A series of community meetings were held to correspond with the completion of both the feasibility study and the charter summary.
The next step of the incorporation process is the petition. Petition signatures are needed, stating that we, the South Walton community, would like the right to vote on whether or not to incorporate. This is an important classification as this is not a statement of support for incorporation; it is a statement of support for the South Walton community’s opportunity to vote on the issue of incorporation.
ABSW will submit the feasibility study and draft charter to the Florida State Legislature, and petition signatures requesting the right to vote on incorporation in 2017 to our local State Representative. We must show our local State Representative, who will present this request to the legislature on South Walton’s behalf during the 2017 legislative session, that local government and more effective, responsive governance is needed to make South Walton a better community for guests and residents.
Your help is needed to make this happen. Please take a moment to visit www.ABetterSouthWalton.org to learn more about this initiative, research the available documentation and take action by signing the petition, making a donation, or volunteering your time or talent.
Together we can make A Better South Walton.