SHALIMAR — The Okaloosa County Infrastructure Surtax Advisory Committee on Thursday unanimously agreed to support spending up to $2.4 million worth of half-penny sales tax money for a Sheriff’s Office training center and a little more than $2.6 million in sales tax revenue for various infrastructure upgrades.
The county’s voter-approved, 10-year half-cent sales tax took effect Jan. 1. With the County Commission’s approval on Feb. 5, revenue from the tax would pay for all, the bulk or some of the total cost of the county’s first batch of proposed projects, most of which could get underway this year.
The proposed two-story, 10,000-square-foot Sheriff’s Office training center would stand next to the S.O.’s firing range by Crestview and include indoor space to train for active-shooter scenarios.
“We live in a time in society where we have to prepare ourselves for things we didn’t have to in the past,” said Sheriff Larry Ashley, who referenced the gunman who killed five people Wednesday at a bank in Sebring and the gunman who killed 17 people and injured 17 others last February at a high school in Parkland.
Local first responders currently are “not prepared” to respond to such mass-casualty incidents, Ashley told the advisory board.
Among other benefits, he said the proposed training center would offer training to more first responders and lead to a better joint response to active assailants.
He also noted that while the S.O.’s firing range is one of the best in the area, the rundown classroom, storage and office buildings at the site are some of the worst facilities around.
And, “We’re overcrowded out there,” Ashley said.
The up to $2.4 million in possible sales tax money for the training center would cover the cost of land acquisition for the facility and the cost of the center’s construction, as well as other items.
County Commissioner Nathan Boyles said the overall proposed project has his full support.
“I think we want to see some early (sales tax project) wins for our constituents, and in my mind this fits in that pocket," Boyles said.
The other projects that the advisory board supports funding for consist of: new stormwater pipes along 6th Avenue by Shalimar; drainage upgrades by Beachview Drive near the Shalimar Bridge; improvements to the Commons Drive/Henderson Beach Drive intersection by Destin; widening part of John King Road by Crestview and improving the road’s intersection with Live Oak Church Road; sidewalk work on Redwood Avenue and survey work for improving the Redwood Avenue/John Sims Parkway intersection; pedestrian crosswalks on Santa Rosa Boulevard next to the three recently improved county beach accesses; new stormwater pipes by Standish Court in Ocean City.
County Public Works Director Jason Autrey said permitting issues are delaying work on the southwest part of the planned Crestview Bypass.
The half-cent sales tax could generate about $19 million annually for public safety, transportation and stormwater system capital improvements. Almost $12.7 million of the estimated total will go to the county and the remainder will be divided among its nine municipalities, based on population.