Early voting is underway for Tuesday’s Primary Election Day. In Okaloosa, there’s one County Commission race being contested and it’s a universal race. The three candidates for the District 4 seat are incumbent Don Amunds, Trey Goodwin, and Henry Kelley. WUWF sat down with each of the candidates and has this report.
Focusing on the county’s most important infrastructure needs, all three candidates seems to agree that roadways and storm water issues are at the top of the list; however their approach to funding these needs differ.
The incumbent, Don Amunds, a U.S. Army veteran and former Okaloosa County Sheriff’s deputy, says the 3% gas tax previously passed by the commission - along with FEMA money - should help. Although he has not supported raising taxes in the past, Amunds says he would consider it if it’s what the public wants, "Recently folks have said well if we have a half cent sales tax the tourists pay for 35% of it. Everybody pays something not just the property owners. So my position has been if the public wants a half cent sales tax to start paying for some of these projects because we know at the end of the day that we all work for the citizens and if the majority wants to do it that way it would be great because it would be off the backs of the property owners."
Also in the running for the District 4 seat is Trey Goodwin, a local attorney and native resident of Okaloosa County. Goodwin says he’d like to see better planning for growth, and believes BP oil money is one of the funding sources that should be considered, " My point of view is that we make sure to secure those dollars, secure those in responsible projects, we’ve got at least 10 million that’s been freed up to be used for infrastructure, I think that indicates that there’s an opening for us to get more. And I want to see that money go to things like infrastructure, roads, storm water, not because those are the flashiest and most exciting projects but because those are the projects that are the most responsible."
The final candidate running in the district is Henry Kelley. An Army veteran of Desert Storm, Kelley has a background in the tourism industry and is currently a professor at Florida Institute of Technology. He says attracting federal dollars for infrastructure needs would lessen the burden on Okaloosa taxpayers, "You’ve got to put some skin in the game. There are state and federal matching funds. So one of the things that I want to do is create that dedicated funding source so we can go out and get those multipliers from federal and state monies that our current bill is from $55 million to upwards of $100 million, when you have an approximate $300 million budget, you can’t cut a third of the budget and put it aside. You have to be creative and creating that dedicated funding source puts a few million that allows us to go to the state and federal to get additional monies is really the only way to do this. "
Another key issue of the election is to create more jobs by attracting new businesses to the area. Don Amunds says his priority is to keep the county’s debt ratio and property taxes down, while providing new employment opportunities, especially in the medical field, "We are diversifying from the military and the tourism industry into a lot of medical, medical is high paying jobs. We did a partnership with some tax breaks for North Okaloosa Medical Hospital. They did a little over $30 million in additions and created several high paying positions."
Henry Kelley is also in favor of increasing jobs in the medical field and in recent years has had a hand in helping to open a Florida A & M Pharmaceutical College in Crestview. Kelley says achieving economic diversification for the county is a key factor in attracting businesses and there are several ways of doing so. He says providing quality higher education programs beyond a bachelors degree is the first way to bring talent to the area, "The second thing is an enhancement of the artistic community. Having arts that people with typically higher education and higher incomes enjoy as far as social activities and we’re seeing a growth in the higher education sectors which I’ve been a part of and things like the Mattie Kelley Arts Foundation that brings that higher quality of life that people with higher incomes expect, and makes us a more attractive area for people to want to move their businesses to."
In the area of economic development, Trey Goodwin says addressing issues such as over-regulation and over taxation will be necessary to help established businesses and attract the right kind of new businesses," We need to continue to streamline regulation, doesn’t mean irresponsible, but streamline regulation so that businesses that are looking at our area can know that from start of operation isn’t going to be held up by their county government. Because time is money in any business, and if they can go to a neighboring county or a neighboring state and get a better deal or a quicker deal a lot of times they’ll do that."
In the meantime, the importance of the county’s relationship with the military and support for veterans is something that all three candidates agree on and value.
In Okaloosa, early voting continues until Saturday, and Election Day is Tuesday, August 26th. This District 4 race is a Universal Primary meaning all voters in the county, regardless of district or party affiliation, are eligible to cast ballots.
Early voting is from ten am until six pm at various locations throughout the county including Niceville City Hall, the Supervisor of Elections Office in Crestview, Sikes Public Library in Crestview, the Fairgrounds in Fort Walton Beach, and the Destin Community Center. More information is available at govote-okaloosa.com.