Walton County TDC media plan passes amid questions from locals

Published: Apr. 27, 2021 at 8:47 PM CDT
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As the Walton County Tourist Development Council looks to approve its next media plan to market the county, locals are raising concerns about how tourism tax dollars are spent.

“We can’t go back in time and fix past budgets or mourn the loss of money that could’ve been spent on public safety, infrastructure, and pedestrian facilities,” said Walton County resident Barbara Mareno.

According to Florida Statute 125.0104, 40 percent of taxes collected from tourism must be spent on marketing -- if the tourist development council wants to spend money on improving public facilities.

But many residents say more should be spent on beach safety.

“We have got to have more lifeguards, we have got to pay them better, we need more lifeguard stands, they need jet skis to get out to these people, they need storage on the beach for the jet skis, there are so many things that need to happen, it’s our responsibility to keep our area safe,” said Donna Johns, a Walton County resident.

At the meeting, the board approved the creation of a beach safety workgroup. The fact-finding committee would be made up of people from the TDC, South Walton Fire District, Code Enforcement, and Walton County Sheriff’s Office, among others.

TDC executive director Jay Tusa also said they’ll increase spending on promoting beach safety, from $100,00 to $240,000.

“We’ve kind of been hearing this 100 thousand dollar number, well that just kind of scratches the surface, we do a whole lot more in regards to beach safety, so currently the TDC spends 1.6 million dollars to fully fund the South Walton Fire District lifeguard program,” said Tusa.

TDC officials said they also spend a total of $3.1 million annually on beach safety.

Some local bed tax collectors say they support the TDC.

“This has been a collaborative effort, people have looked at the budget, reviewed the budget, approved the budget, and this is deep and wide, it doesn’t fall on the shoulders of one or two people,” said one tax collector.

Commissioner Tony Anderson made a motion to have the state attorney general give an opinion on how the TDC is spending its money.

The other commissioners who were present did not second that motion, so it was not voted on.

The $500,000 media plan passed.

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