FORT WALTON BEACH — A new task force is set to begin the process of freeing Okaloosa County government from its dependence on landlords.
“Our goal by 2014 is to be out of the rental business,” County Commission Chairman Don Amunds said.
Amunds is one of nine people who will serve on the Shalimar Annex Renovation Project Task Force, which meets for the first time Friday. All the county’s constitutional officers will be represented, along with the state attorney’s office and court administration.
The panel’s name is slightly deceiving.
While deciding how best to renovate the 58,900-square-foot Shalimar annex — while maintaining 15,000 square feet for some type of judicial function — will be a big part of its job, there are other renovations to be discussed, Amunds said.
“It’s a big picture concept,” he said. “Where all do we have space and where can we renovate?”
By moving all its offices into county-owned buildings, Okaloosa can save $1 million a year, Amunds said. He favors putting the anticipated savings into the renovations.
Amunds said the first target for renovation could well be old Fort Walton Beach Hospital building the county owns on Hospital Drive. The old Garnier’s wastewater treatment plant on Essex Road in Ocean City also will also be reviewed.
Amunds said he hopes the Sheriff’s Office’s Investigative Division will go along with a plan to move to the old hospital or another county-owned location so the $125,000 to $130,000 rent for its offices in Shalimar can be eliminated.
The biggest rental cost the county pays is about $400,000 to lease the tax collector and property appraiser offices at Uptown Station in Fort Walton Beach.
Those leases run out in November 2014. Amunds said the two offices definitely will be relocated.
One problem the task force faces is that the county still is technically entangled in litigation over the Shalimar annex property.
The annex was almost completely vacated following construction of the new courthouse annex extension at the C.H. “Bull” Rigdon Fairgrounds and Recreation Complex on Lewis Turner Boulevard.
The Meigs family trust, which deeded the Shalimar annex land to the county decades ago, sued. The Meigs trust claimed that by moving, the county triggered a reverter clause that states if court functions were abandoned in Shalimar, the property would be returned to the family.
A judge ruled in February that by agreeing to maintain a judicial presence at the annex, the county had not triggered the reverter clause. The Meigs’ family has appealed the ruling and a decision is expected in February or March.
With the appeal pending, the county’s judiciary is weighing what its presence will be at the Shalimar annex, said Clerk of Court Don Howard, another task force member.
Until that decision is made, full-blown renovation plans for the annex remain on hold, Howard said. Both the clerk’s presence and the sheriff’s presence at the annex will be predicated upon the extent of court functions there.
“What the judiciary does will directly impact my office,” Howard said. “Like any other construction-type project, you have to first decide what it is you’re going to achieve at that location.”
Tax Collector Ben Anderson, who is on the task force, said he’s already studying plans to determine how his office can best use space at the annex.
“We’ll do our part to make it a good place for the citizens to do business,” he said.
Anderson said the “overriding focus” is to continue to provide the efficiency and convenience residents get at his office at Uptown Station.
He said he fears some difficulties in doing that at a 40-year-old building with low ceilings.
Contact Daily News Staff Writer Tom McLaughlin at 850-315-4435 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @TomMnwfdn.