Chasing Our Tails

We desperately need a western by-pass around Crestview. Notice I say “we”. I don’t live in Crestview, but I pass through, and I do business there. And all of us do tourist things in Destin, and real estate things, homebuilder things, and Chamber of Commerce things all over the County.

Ever wonder the worst part of the trip from Birmingham to Destin? The roads are open all the way, except around Crestview. Soon you can scoot around Niceville. Carolyn and I own a business in the heart of Niceville. But those cars stopped on the Niceville Parkway on the way to Destin will not divert to go into the Bayou Book Company. They simply discourage and slow down those who might. Main Street Crestview is no different.

The Crestview by-pass is only one example of need. Last week someone proposed a public-private partnership to build a parking garage in downtown Fort Walton Beach. The same might be, should be, proposed at the foot of the Destin Bridge. The need for a fly-over for the northern end of Highway 123, is obvious and urgent. Maybe more importantly, the water and sewer systems on the south side of Crestview are stretched beyond capacity, and every day we are wedging more houses onto the existing lines. We turn purple with indignation because we all know the federal government is creating debt for our grandchildren to pay. Yet when we take the benefits of growth today and let resulting infra-structure needs pile up for another day, we create the same burden on future generations that we attribute justifiably to the federal government.

Building around Crestview without providing for roads, sewer, and water is about like me stopping on the way to work for another warm donut. It tastes good now, but it feeds short-term addiction at the expense of better plans.

If I’m right about things we ought to do as a community, who cares enough to do anything about it? I’m convinced that there are people who would slide through life and enjoy the show; others would say that God’s purpose is to at least leave the place in no worse shape than we found it.

I’ve asked the Board of Realtors to tell me its local priorities. There are none. I’ve asked the Building Industry. They have some, but they involve stopping impact fees. I am a member of both, but it seems to me our best function is to figure out how to fund growth in ways that don’t work unfairly to slow development, not how to stop it. Our opposition puts local officials in the horrible quandary of doing nothing because nothing they do has any concerted support. Let’s be for something, find the least unpleasant way to fund it, and make sure our priorities are clear.

The Daily News has a long history of distrust of all government and of opposition to any hint that a local government take action to solve a problem. As a result local government officials are driven to neurosis. Those who see needs can do nothing about them. They can’t even talk about solutions because the paper, and a chorus of followers, will accuse them of being free-spending and pro-government. The hope that government can “do more with less” has been replaced by the simple mantra that government should “do with less”.

The Mid-Bay Bridge is a great example of what happens when we work together. It produced ad valorem and sales tax revenue, opened Destin to points north, and did not increase property taxes. Like that bridge, none of the improvements discussed above is purely local. Like that bridge, we can only do it by coming together to identify priorities. There is no benefit to one end of this county without benefitting the other.