“Beach baskets” for trash in Destin

To: Daily Rundown Readers

TOGETHER WITH

Good morning!

It’s still a ways out, but disorganized showers and thunderstorms continue in association with a tropical wave located over the tropical Atlantic, about 900 miles east of the Lesser Antilles.

Some slow development of this disturbance is possible later this week and this weekend while the system moves westward to west-northwestward at 15 to 20 mph, likely reaching the Lesser Antilles by Wednesday night.

Currently there is a 40% chance of formation chance through 5 days.

💰Stakeholders discuss tourist tax expansion

Last Tuesday morning, stakeholders from Destin and Crestview spoke before the Okaloosa Tourism Development Council regarding their positions on the newly announced expansion of the Tourism Development Tax (TDT).

Shane Moody, CEO of the Destin Chamber of Commerce, was the first to speak on issue.

“Our position on the tax expansion right now is that we don’t have a position,” said Moody. “Our Board feels like we don’t have enough information yet. They want to see the Ordinance as it comes back.”

Moody went on to say that he has spoken with Deputy County Administrator Craig Coffey and explained that he “doesn’t even need the exact ordinance”, that a draft would help them understand where they stand on the issue as a Chamber.

Some of the issues that the Destin Chamber is concerned about include:

  • Proper representation of the City of Destin on the Tourist Development Council. “Since we generate 68% of the tax, we feel that it’s important that we have a seat on this council continually,” said Moody.
  • The $41 million in the reserves remain for South Bay projects within the current district.
  • Beach restoration money

“I have faith that the attorneys will work this out,” continued Moody. “We certainly understand the importance of county-wide partnerships. We’ve always worked towards that goal. I don’t see this being any differently down the line as we get there. But I did want you to hear that our position is that we don’t have one currently before anything comes out.”

Crestview City Manager Tim Bolduc was also at the meeting Tuesday morning and spoke to the TDC right after Moody.

“I was that the County Commissioners meeting when our Mayor expressed during that meeting our excitement about the opportunity to work together with the rest of Okaloosa county, and those that are currently in the district, to develop a system that is fair and equitable to everybody,” said Bolduc. “I’m here today to mirror that. We look forward to participating in the process. We understand the risk, and the fear maybe, that Destin is experiencing right now.”

Bolduc went on to say that the City of Crestview understands the concern regarding “protecting existing revenues.”

“All of those things make sense to us,” he continued. “We absolutely believe that there’s a place that everybody can work together at the table to get this done. We know that 67% of the revenue comes from Destin but they have to get there, and in order to get there, they come through Crestview and Niceville and some of the other areas.”

As for the City of Destin, the council met on Monday night and agreed to hire Attorney Jeff Burns, of the Burns Law Firm, to help the city navigate the discussions surrounding ballot language and the final ordinance.

  • Mr. Burns will be hired for the next two weeks to perform research and provide an expert analysis of what the City’s options are.

Destin Council-member Chatham Morgan expressed that he would like “concrete legal assurances” that the money generated from the bed tax in Destin wouldn’t be pulled into the north-end part of the county.

“If we are going to continue to bring tourists down here, I want to make sure that we need to continue to invest in our infrastructure down here in Destin,” said Morgan.

With that, Mr. Morgan said he would like some of the legal research to include:

  • Legal opinion on Okaloosa preventing existing taxing district residents from voting on the expansion.
  • Legal opinion on how Walton County has created their sub-districts.
  • Legal opinion on how a city can withdraw from a taxing district.

Bottom line: All parties involved seemed to currently want to work together to make the expansion happen. It’s just a matter of language at this point.

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🚌 40 new school buses for Okaloosa students

New Okaloosa County School Bus
School Board Member Linda Evanchyk standing in front of a brand new school bus for the District.

At Thursday’s Okaloosa County School Board workshop, Superintendent Marcus Chambers briefed the Board on the status of new school buses.

“About 25 of the new school buses are in,” said Chambers. “The next 15 should be in before the start of school.”

According to Chambers, the District currently has between 160-180 school buses. The 40 new buses are part of the District’s “School Bus Replacement Program”.

“We will look to have anywhere from 10 to 20 buses added each year,” continued Chambers. “So over the course of 8 years, we hope to have a whole fleet of buses that are new, air conditioned, and have seat belts.”

Before the end of the school year, School Board Member Linda Evanchyk posted a photo of one of the new buses.

“I’m excited to get to see one of the Okaloosa School District’s new buses up close today,” wrote Evanchyk. “Look at that bus number! The first number means that the bus was built this year. Okaloosa County residents, thank you. This is your tax money going to work for our students.”

  • That tax money is the half-cent sales tax that Okaloosa residents approved back in November 2020.
  • The first installment of half-cent sales tax money began to hit the bank account in April of this year for Okaloosa schools, according to Vince Mayfield (below).

Flashback: Back in 2019, Escambia County’s School Board agreed to donate 30 of their old buses to Okaloosa. That was the second time that Escambia had donated buses. Eight of those donated buses had air conditioning.

📚 Okaloosa 3rd Graders rank 8th in the State

Okaloosa County School District Admin Complex in Fort Walton Beach

At last Thursday’s Okaloosa County School Board workshop, Superintendent Marcus Chambers gave the board an update on 3rd grade FSA reading test scores from this past school year.

“As you know, this was a difficult year,” started Mr. Chambers. “A lot of interruptions to school days here in the state of Florida, and we know that learning loss was a big deal throughout the state.”

According to Chambers, roughly 91% of Okaloosa 3rd grade students were tested. 

  • The District normally has 98-99% of the students tested.
  • Some of the districts across the state only had 50% of students tested.

“To still get 91% of students tested is a compliment to our schools,” said Chambers to the Board. “I don’t want to just gloss over that. This is schools literally calling families to come up to take some of these tests. Some families did not want to come up and take tests, and we didn’t put that pressure on them.”

The last time 3rd graders were tested in the State of Florida was 2019and since then, scores have dropped 4 percentage points at the state level. In Okaloosa County, we had a 3% drop in score. 

  • 63% of Okaloosa 3rd grade students were proficient this past school year.
  • 54% of 3rd grade students across the state level were proficient this past school year.
  • State testing was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic.

In 2019, 3rd graders ranked 15th in state. This year, they rank 8th in the state.

“Most importantly, this year was about safety,” continued Chambers. “Giving our students and our employees an environment where they can be at school, have as much normalcy as possible, but still learn. Again, it’s not all about test scores, but I’m very proud to see we are now 8th in what was a very, very difficult year.”

As for learning loss, the OCSD saw that it was not unique to struggling students but also affected advanced students because they just didn’t have the instruction.

“If you’re quarantined two or three times, and the teacher was quarantined or had COVID, you had a significant amount of instructional time lost,” said Sheila Lightborne, Assistant Superintendent.

According to Florida Politics, “high rates of in-person instruction in school districts correlated to better results in third grade reading assessments.”

Moving forward to the upcoming school year, the District is “rebooting” the curriculum to help get students excited and engaged, and to help teachers and principals make it happen.

The 3rd grade reading test results are the first batch released from Florida’s 2021 standardized testing season, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Scores for math, science and social studies exams are expected by late July.

🗑 “Beach basket” program for trash pick-up

Example of a “beach walkers” trash basket program

On June 17th, Trees on the Coast Director, Bobby Wagnerwas tagged on a Facebook post regarding starting a “beach walkers” program in Destin.

This program involves having grocery baskets at the main entrance of a beach access, where beach walkers can grab a basket and help pick-up trash as they walk along the beach. It’s being discussed in Fort Meyers Beach, FL too.

4 days later, Wagner spoke before the Destin City Council to help make this idea a reality.

“I had several different people from different posts tag me about this,” said Wagner to Get The Coast. “It is just a great idea and I thought it was an easy win with Trees on the Coast.”

The Council agreed to allow Wagner to do a pilot program at two beach access locations:

  • The Shore at Crystal Beach
  • June White Decker Park

“We’re trying to install them in the next two to four weeks,” said Wagner. “From there, we’re going to test it out for a month. If we think it works, and it’s not a logistical nightmare, we’re going to install them at every single beach access location within the City of Destin.”

Example of a “beach walkers” trash basket program

The “beach basket” program won’t cost the City of Destin any money as Wagner has already found sponsorships for the first two locations.

“The plan right now is to take what the City has already done at the Adopt-A-Street level and we’re looking for any organization, person or family that wants to adopt a location,” explained Wagner. 

Sponsorship: Each location will run $500 for the year, and will come with an emblem of your choice on the sign. 

As for the baskets, Wagner is planning on launching with 10 at each location but understands that some might go “missing.”

“Of course over time, things are going to get damaged and one or two might get stolen,” he continued. “We’re just going to encourage people to think of the positive and not the negative side of this. This is an easy one for the community to allow good people to do good things.”

Two hospitalized, in critical condition after near-drownings at South Walton beaches
Two people have been hospitalized after almost drowning at beaches in South Walton County over the weekend. The incidents occurred about 14 miles of one another on separate days. As of Monday morning, both people were still hospitalized and in critical condition, said South Walton Fire District Public Information Officer Mackenzie McClintock. 
Two hospitalized, in critical condition after near-drownings at South Walton beaches
Two people have been hospitalized after almost drowning at beaches in South Walton County over the weekend. The incidents occurred about 14 miles of one another on separate days. As of Monday morning, both people were still hospitalized and in critical condition, said South Walton Fire District Public Information Officer Mackenzie McClintock. 
Full schedule announced for Pensacola Beach Air Show
The Santa Rosa Island Authority will host the annual Pensacola Beach Air Show. Events will run from July 7-10. The U.S. Navy Blue Angels — celebrating their 75th anniversary this season — are headlining on Friday and Saturday. Here’s the full rundown!
Full schedule announced for Pensacola Beach Air Show
The Santa Rosa Island Authority will host the annual Pensacola Beach Air Show. Events will run from July 7-10. The U.S. Navy Blue Angels — celebrating their 75th anniversary this season — are headlining on Friday and Saturday. Here’s the full rundown!
Air Force moving fighter jet training unit from Eglin AFB to Virginia base
The Air Force is permanently moving its F-22 fighter jet training operation from Eglin Air Force Base to Virginia, officials said Friday. The F-22 training squadron will be based at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Hampton.
Air Force moving fighter jet training unit from Eglin AFB to Virginia base
The Air Force is permanently moving its F-22 fighter jet training operation from Eglin Air Force Base to Virginia, officials said Friday. The F-22 training squadron will be based at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Hampton.

Ok, that’s all I have for you this morning. Hope you have a great Tuesday!

Jared

p.s. What did you think of this morning’s newsletter? Hit the reply button and let me know!

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