FORT WALTON BEACH — Okaloosa County commissioners are set to vote Tuesday on two major issues.

The board will consider Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley’s request for more money to help fill 26 vacant positions. The slots were left empty when Ashley placed deputies in every school in the county following the shooting rampage in Newtown, Conn., last month

Most commissioners have supported Ashley’s decision. But now they must decide whether to help him replenish his deputies or allow him to operate with a staff cut by about 11 percent.

“I don’t know where the money is going to come from,” County Commission Chairman Don Amunds said. “Right now it would have to come out of general fund reserves.”

The 26 deputies placed in the elementary schools were pulled from several units — beach and marine patrol, civil processing, court security, detention and booking, street crimes and traffic enforcement.

The beach and marine patrol, street crimes and traffic enforcement units were depleted and will be inactive until new deputies are hired.

County commissioners also are expected to vote on several proposed changes to the ordinance governing county parks.

Under the changes, beachgoers would be prohibited from swimming more than 300 feet from shore. The proposal includes a ban on swimming, diving, surfing or watercraft use within 150 feet of the Okaloosa Island Fishing Pier.

Beach safety officials say the restrictions are needed to discourage “extreme swimmers” who insist on swimming in red and double-red flag conditions.

Those swimmers can prompt wide-scale emergency responses and put rescuers at risk, officials say.

“It’s really designed for when you have a problem person who’s really creating a life-threatening situation,” County Administrator Jim Curry said. “You’ve got to have a rule that says, ‘This is not allowed.’ ”

Another proposal would make it illegal to leave items such as chairs, coolers, toys and tents on the beach unattended between midnight and 7:30 a.m.

The abandoned items block the county’s beach cleaning service, which sweeps the sand each morning. County officials say the debris also causes problems during sea turtle nesting season when the beach must be kept clear, according to a federal mandate.


The Okaloosa County Commission will meet at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Water and Sewer Administration Building at 1804 Lewis Turner Blvd. in Fort Walton Beach.

Contact Daily News Staff Writer Kari C. Barlow at 850-315-4438 or Follow her on Twitter @KariBnwfdn.