After listening for two hours to Alligator Point residents voice support for their neighborhood remaining in Franklin County, county commissioners Tuesday afternoon voted unanimously to tell Florida legislators they opposed annexation of this land by Wakulla County.
After seconding a motion by William Massey against annexation, newly elected commissioner Bert Boldt, whose district includes Alligator Point, suggested a letter be written to State Sen. Bill Montford “to say not now, that we’re not willing to annex anywhere. We’re staying right here in Franklin County.”
The commissioners’ vote was in keeping with the widely held sentiment among the 75 or so residents who showed up for the hearing, called two weeks ago after Jim McCloy, president of the Alligator Point Taxpayers Association (APTA), had appeared before the commissioners to request they support annexation.
McCloy was the last to speak among the two dozen residents who had driven the 50 or so miles to attend the hearing, and even he called for a go-slow approach to annexation, an idea he had placed before Montford last fall.
“The Alligator Point St. Teresa Association does not have a position, we’re looking for more information,” he said. “A lot are in favor but they don’t want to jeopardize (repair of Alligator Drive).
“I think the vote would be strong for it if the road were fixed,” McCloy said. “I agree with APTA that it’s too soon to make a decision. We don’t have all the information.”
Of those who spoke, all but one, Jerry Metz, spoke either against annexation in principle, or opposed to due to concern that it could interfere with growing momentum, propelled by a consultant under contract with the Florida Division of Emergency Management, to secure help from state and federal sources to aid with recovery from Hurricane Michael, with the primary emphasis on fixing a portion of Alligator Point’s main thoroughfare, still awaiting repair from Hurricane Hermine in Sept. 2016.
“We’re here to help you get rid of that burden of the county’s most expensive road,” said Metts, a permanent resident for the last 10 years. “We want to help you get rid of that hardship forever and ever.
“It will be our responsibility to work with Wakulla,” he said. “I’m for the annexation unless some other issues come up.”
The queue of speakers who appeared shared views in marked contrast to Metts.
The opening speaker, Marvin Haymann, set the tone for what followed, praising the effort of consultant Frank McColm, together with state and county officials, to secure help for the road.
“I’m thinking you guys have been doing a real nice job,” he said. “Everything looking very hopeful to me. Right now it’s looking very good staying here.
“You heard us, the governor heard us,” Haymann said. “The state consultant is doing well. I encourage you guys to listen to what they’re doing, they’re finding interesting ways to solve problems. The consultant they hired is extremely knowledgeable. They’re going to try to make solutions.”
Jim and Betty Cummins both came out against annexation.
“The important thing is the road has got to be fixed,” said Jim.
“I’ve invested a lot in terms of putting down roots, emotional roots,” said Betty, noting that as a retired respiratory therapist, she has spoken out about health and safety issues, including dust kicked up by the temporary road fix now in place.
She said the Alligator Point Volunteer Fire Department has “worked very hard to provide onsite quick response.
“Moving to Wakulla County would remove that from us in terms of having those responders, those trained people, right there to intervene when we need them the most.”
Betty Cummins also raised a point that others mentioned as well, and that was not lost on the commissioners, who generally hear mainly from APTA representatives when it comes to issues in that area.
“I did not sign that ad in the (Tallahassee daily) paper, and I’m not a member of APTA,” she said. “I do not want to delegate my voice to any other entity.”
Jay Wadsworth, who along with wife Amy, has been a fulltime resident of Alligator Point since 2015, said that a previous residents of Wakulla County for 17 years, he saw no advantage to the Wakulla annexation.
“It doesn’t make things any better for Alligator Paint,” he said. “The only way Alligator Drive is repaired and maintained is for the state to take care of the road.”
Wadsworth, noting that Gulf County had given back Cape San Blas Road to the state, said counties have to wait for Federal Emergency Management Agency money, but the state doesn’t. “Therefore repairs can be made much quicker,” he said. “The road has never been back to the way it was in 2005.”
Former county planner Alan Pierce noted that in his extensive talks with McColm and other state and federal officials, “I haven’t seen any movement that the state would take over the road.”
Ann Maruszak, a property owner for 41 years, and Ken Osborne, for 47 years, both opposed annexation.
Maruszak praised a lengthy list of Alligator Point residents for their civic-minded efforts, including the water and sewer district, “ho miraculously restored our water soon after Hurricane Michael.
“We help our neighbors and do what is necessary to take care of ourselves,” she said. “My number one priority is to see a safe, durable road built. I don’t want this issue or any person to derail this long sought-after achievement.”
Osborne, a former APTA leader, said he believed “annexation can only delay the fixing of the road.
“They (state officials) are strongly stating that the road has to be fixed. Due diligence would take one to two years,” he said. “(They) have the ability to do this and for the first time to get monies to assist you to get it done.”
Kristen Guynes and Brady Harrison each stressed that they did not share in the negative feelings towards the county often attributed to Alligator Point residents.
“We are proud to call this home,” said Guynes, who together with husband Casey has written to county commissioners. “We have not experienced any concerns with county services whatsoever. We do not believe a move to Wakulla County would solve those issues.
“There’s no easy fix. A move to Wakulla offers no solutions, only concerns,” she said. “Several courtesies from Franklin County I am not confident would be offered by Wakulla.” She cited having a nearby polling place, and having dedicated deputies handling reentry tags, as examples of these courtesies.
In terms of law enforcement, while some residents deplored trash being thrown out by visitors, mostly from Wakulla and Leon counties, Sheriff A.J. Smith’s efforts in the area were roundly praised by the speakers.
“Not all residents have a negative view,” said Harrison, contending that annexation would only “add another kink or wrinkle in our recovery time.
“Keep in mind some residents will not agree with any path put forward,” he said, referring to how the levying of MSBUs (Municipal Service Benefit Unit) fees might be met with opposition.
Harrison said he owns property in the stretch of a dozen or so homes that the state is interested in buying to make way for a more inland roadway site. “I am willing to move forward for the betterment of the community,” he said.
Bob Glazier praised the work of county road crews after the hurricane. “We came in and got a road built in a day,” he said. “We were able to get our lives back together on Alligator Point.
“You’d have to be blind not to see that,” he said. “It’s not just us, it’s everybody in Franklin County. We have gotten some fair treatment here. The grass sometimes isn’t greener on the other side.”
He also sounded a robust endorsement of his newly elected commissioner. “APTA is not the voice of Alligator Point. Mr. Boldt is now,” said Glazier. “You’re our lifeline now.”
Rick and Cindy Slater were both against annexation. “We got too much momentum going with Franklin County right now,” he said.
Derek and his mom, Edna, Holtzapfel both opposed annexation, with Derek also voicing concern over county tax dollars “not being used appropriately, such as for roadside trash services. It doesn’t make it look as good.
“And you’ve done away with recycling on Bald Point as well,” he said.
Robert Gates cited the work of the volunteer fire department, noting that since Wakulla has a professional department, “it’s highly likely the fire department would be disbanded.
“I personally have seen fires put out by the volunteer department, and I’ve seen two lifesaving situations at St. Teresa,” he said. “There are larger micro-issues we should consider. This (county) allows us to have people right in our backyards to perform and provide those critical services.”
Speaking against annexation, Ron Huskey asked “Is this a voluntary thing or a shotgun wedding?
Rudy Meng, John Berry and Susan Booders all said they remained undecided on the issue.
“I don’t think anybody wants to go to Wakulla, it’s just the frustration,” said Meng.
“A lot of people haven’t felt heard,” said Booders. There’s a lot of great people on Alligator Point and a fabulous sense of community.”
The speakers wrapped up with Allan Feifer and Georgianne Metts both calling for reconciliation.
“This is a day you can actually turn the page,” said Feifer. “I think you have an affirmation that people love this county. I think we heard today that we want to stay, that this is a new beginning.”
Metts urged commissioners and the residents to come together. “Commissioner Parrish, please come back to Alligator Point, it’s not that bad.”
Parrish said he understood that it was only a few residents who “ridiculed and disrespected” and he sounded a similar positive tone as his colleagues. He was firm on the point that it had been the county commission’s efforts that had led to the state intervention.
“I met twice with these consultants, the state didn’t step forward voluntarily,” he said. “And when it was all said and done, we said we have to move the road off the Gulf of Mexico.”
He said the county will likely deplete half of its $1 million reserves while it awaits a 75 percent reimbursement from FEMA that could take years.
“We do what we can do under the abilities we have,” Parrish said. “These little rural counties don’t have enough votes so you don’t have as much attention as you think you deserve.”
He urged the creation of a neighborhood watch group so violators, whetehr it be tossing out trash or messing up the recycling bins, can be quickly addressed.
Chairman Noah Lockley said he would be willing to meet with Alligator Point residents to get a better idea of their priorities and concerns.
“You all live down there, you all know more what’s going on than we do and we’ll never know what’s going on until we’re told,” he said. “I’m willing to sit down and we’ll call a meeting and let’s make sure we’re improving. I can’t do it by myself, I need this board’s permission. You all set the date and I’ll be there.”