Santa Rosa County Commission


With black bear sightings on the rise in Santa Rosa County, local officials are asking the state for help. One official is taking the lead after a close encounter.

County Commissioner Bob Cole’s wife recently discovered an unwanted visitor to their home in Milton.

“We keep the dog and cat foot in trash cans inside the garage,” Cole said. “That particular day, my wife had the garage door open; she later that day found the trash can turned over and the dog food gone. We had seen a bear several weeks prior to that in the woods next to the garage.”

Four months after creation, an $85 million state fund for economic development lies dormant, while more than 160 requests totaling over a half-billion dollars await.

The “Florida Job Growth Grant Fund" was created during a special legislative session as a compromise between Gov. Rick Scott and House leaders. At issue was the House’s desire to scrap Enterprise Florida and other economic development programs.

Santa Rosa County

Santa Rosa County is now in the midst of closing on the purchase of a 19-acre parcel on Avalon Boulevard to be the future site of a new judicial center.

Commissioners were divided over the issue of location, but are now looking to move forward together.

Chairman Rob Williamson set the tone for the work ahead, before entertaining a motion for this month’s final vote to approve the purchase.

As the debate continues over a new courthouse for Santa Rosa County, one county commissioner is weighing in with his own ideas about location, location, location. 

You’ve no doubt heard this before: when the courthouse opened in Milton, Babe Ruth was hitting homeruns and “The Jazz Singer,” with Al Jolson and not Neil Diamond, was in the theaters.

  The debate over the long-standing practice of opening local government meetings with an invocation has intensified recently after the Pensacola City Council allowed a representative of a local satanic group to offer the prayer.

The issue got national attention. But, locals are also watching closely and candidates for the Santa Rosa County Commission had to deal with it at a recent political forum.

Sandra Averhart

Santa Rosa County voters are being asked again to approve a sales tax to fund construction of a new judicial center. The referendum will appear on the August 30 Primary Election ballot. It has been the subject of continued debate among current Santa Rosa Commissioners and is one of the issues facing the candidates seeking election to the board. 

Needing the revenue it would generate, the Santa Rosa County Commission is looking at how to sell a one-cent sales tax increase to voters.

The sales tax in Santa Rosa County is currently 6.5%. The proposed increase would bump that to 7.5%, and help pay for a wish list that’s rather daunting such as a new judicial center to replace the current facility that opened in 1927.

Photo by Steve Droter/Chesapeake Bay Program /

Fifteen projects approved by the Santa Rosa County Commission to share $4.3 million in RESTORE Act funding are now up for federal scrutiny.

Water quality enhancements, oyster bed development, and a job training program are among the projects being green-lighted. Commissioner Lane Lynchard, a member of the county’s RESTORE Council, says this is the culmination of a three-year process.

Photo via Flickr// Mike Mozart /

Santa Rosa County’s gas tax doubled on New Year’s Day: from $0.06 to the maximum $0.12 per gallon.  The hike is expected to bring in millions for county road projects, which may not be enough.

County Commissioners approved the levy on two votes in September. The first for a five-cent local option gas tax increase and the second for a penny raise, called the “ninth cent.”

Three local residents and a fourth with ties to Pensacola are among the eight candidates to replace Hunter Walker as Santa Rosa County Administrator.

Santa Rosa County Commission Chairman Don Salter says they received the short list, culled from 56 applicants, from a committee formed by the Florida Association of Counties. He says working with them was preferable to going through a private “head hunter” firm.

Santa Rosa County’s lack of public transportation is uniting several churches in working on a long-term solution and they have the blessing of county government.

Once upon a time, in 2010, a weekday mini-bus service ran along U.S. 90 between East Milton and Nine Mile Road in Pensacola. But the Santa Rosa County Commission pulled the plug because the program wasn’t self-sufficient.

“Two years, we had 13,000 trips on the system,” Commissioner Don Salter in 2012, shortly after the announcement to end the service.

Some familiar names are showing up on a list of candidates wanting to succeed Hunter Walker as Santa Rosa County administrator.

Thirty-eight contenders had submitted applications by last Friday’s deadline, including former Escambia County interim administrator Larry Newsome; Tony Gomillion, the county’s current public services director, and Jonathan Lewis, the former executive officer at NAS Whiting Field.

The Santa Rosa County Commission is beginning the search for a new administrator. A draft announcement was discussed in Monday’s committee meeting.

Hunter Walker plans to retire on December 31, after two decades as Santa Rosa’s top non-elected governmental official. He made the announcement in mid-April, timing it to allow the panel as much time as needed to make its plans.

Major road projects, and their price tags, are forcing the Santa Rosa County Commission to explore new ways to pay for them. One possible solution is raising the county’s gasoline tax.

Commission Chairman Don Salter says the need stems from the loss of road project money from the Florida Department of Transportation's Small County Outreach Program. Once providing more than $7 million, or 75% of funding for eligible projects, the payouts ended when the county’s population grew beyond eligibility standards.

U.S. Navy

Hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of jobs could be created through construction of Whiting Field Aviation Park. That’s what Santa Rosa County officials are telling the area’s legislative delegation.

County Commission Chairman Don Salter Monday hosted a tour of the county-owned site: 269 acres adjacent to NAS Whiting Field, in search of $8 million from the state to move the project forward. The funds likely would be delivered in two, $4 million increments.

Santa Rosa County

The loss of millions of dollars in state grant money for road projects next year, is prompting the Santa Rosa County Commission to explore other revenue streams. One possibility is a hike in the county’s gas tax.

  Beginning with the New Year, residents in northern Santa Rosa County will have the opportunity to sign up for a new waste and recyclable collection service from Emerald Coast Utilities Authority.

Both the ECUA Board and Santa Rosa County Commission approved the program last week. ECUA was the low bidder for the contrac, offering a quarterly charge of $51.27. That beat out the bids from Waste Management and Waste Pro. ECUA’s Nathalie Bowers says the charge will pay for a number of services.

West Florida Recycling

West Florida Recycling has filed for bankruptcy protection, as it seeks to rebound from what officials call a “perfect storm” of adversity.

Chief Executive Officer Larry Hoover says the “perfect storm” – including debts totaling $1 million -- led to the Chapter-11 filing.

“The issue with the storm water runoff and the flooding, the major drop in commodity prices over the last year, and they all kind of came together at once,” said Hoover.

Naval Air Station Whiting Field has secured more than 490 acres, as part of its double mission of conservation and mission buffering.

That brings to roughly 3,500 acres the amount of land adjacent to the base that’s been purchased. Whiting Field worked on the transaction with Santa Rosa County, Navy Region Southeast and the Naval Facilities Command Southeast.

Total cost was $1.2 million. The money came from the Navy Readiness Environmental Protection Integration, and a grant from the Santa Rosa County Defense Infrastructure.


The Santa Rosa County Commission is at odds with the company providing recycling services to the county. But a resolution could come as early as Thursday morning’s regular meeting.

County Attorney Angela Jones says the complaints – such as overflowing drop-off sites, unattended properties, and a 30 thousand dollar debt owed to the county – are considered violations of the five-year contract signed in 2012. County Administrator Hunter Walker concurred, but added that short of the county going back into the recycling business, they have no other choice.