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.