By Deborah Nelson
An interest group trying to incorporate Navarre into a city got a step closer at last Thursday’s County Commission meeting. But some Holley residents, who live just north of Navarre, are making it clear they’re not enthusiastic about the idea.
Operating under the motto “Let’s keep our tax money in Navarre,” Citizens to Incorporate Navarre, or “Inc. Navarre Now” hopes to separate the central portion of Navarre, including the beach, into an independent city.
The Board of Commissioners, Thursday, voted to put the issue to a nonbinding “straw poll” on this November’s General Election ballot. Monday, they declined to pay for a $27,500 feasibility study the group believes would help convince Florida State legislators to schedule a referendum. The study would examine necessary services, potential revenue sources and charter details.
Santa Rosa has already shelled out $25,000 for half of a 2006 feasibility study, but the issue stalled shortly thereafter.
“We just simply ran out of money,” incorporation advocate Laurie Gallups told commissioners Monday. Gallup said the 2006 study is expired and the Legislature will require an updated version.
The new incorporation effort reorganized in April 2012. Gallups characterizes the group as “grassroots.” As a first step, State Representative Doug Broxson recommended Inc. Navarre conduct a nonbinding “straw poll” vote to gauge area interest in organizing a city charter.
Some Holley residents are already registering their ‘no’ vote. Several advised Commissioners, Monday, not to fund the study. Holley is not part of the incorporation effort but some residents say they fear they’ll end up being steamrolled into citification somewhere down the road.
“I have a petition here that we not be included in the straw vote,” Holley resident Betty Mills told the Commission.
“It’s my community. I’ve lived there all my life. Most people’s addresses are Navarre that live in Holley because you all took Holley away from us,” Mills remarked. “Most of these people on these [petitions] have lived there all their lives. We don’t want to be a city. We don’t want to be included in Navarre at all…I’d like to keep Holley as Holley.
Former Santa Rosa Commissioner Ira Mae Bruce expressed concern that straw poll ballot petitions submitted by Inc. Navarre had not been vetted by the Supervisor of Elections.
“There’s no validation on whether petitions have been presented are people who actually live in the Navarre area,” Bruce remarked.
She went on to ask Commissioners to ensure Inc. Navarre pay the entire cost of any future study.
“There’s no reason to have another study,’ she remarked.
“If Navarre wants to incorporate, let them raise the money to do so,” added Holley resident Kathleen Passmore, who says she’s concerned about incorporation boundaries proposed by the group. “The petition they put [out] is vague. It says Navarre. We [Holley] have the zip code for Navarre…they say a lot of things, and a lot of people say a lot of things. I don’t trust them.”
Retired military resident Sandra Horton, who is advocating against incorporation, urged the commission to ensure any study be conducted by a neutral party with no interest in its outcome.
“There are people on both sides, this has become an emotional issue for all of us,” she remarked.
At Thursday’s Commission meeting, Sandra Cantu pointed out incorporation would impact all County residents.
“You’re going to have money taken from this pot and going over to that pot,” she noted.
Cantu urged Commissioners to ensure all County residents remain well-informed on the process.
Inc. Navarre proponents say a city charter would improve service levels, direct more County funding to Navarre, open up grant money, provide more efficient use of tax dollars and “create our own identity,” among other benefits.
Inc. Navarre pegs their target incorporation population at 35,000, or about 23% of the County total. Most county residents, about 66 percent, live in unincorporated areas administered by County government.
Pro-incorporation advocates say they won’t institute any new property taxes. Group leaders say they’ll fund future city expenses through existing county revenues like utility franchise fees and alternative sources like State municipal revenue sharing funds.
“I don’t know of any city that does not have an extra layer of ad valorem taxes to help finance that city,” District 3 Commissioner Don Salter remarked Monday.
Salter questioned the feasibility of that prospect. “People are being told you won’t have to pay any more taxes…I’m afraid people are being misled.”
The incorporation poll will appear on the November 4 General Election ballot. Residents in voting precincts 26, 29, 34, 35, 38, and 40 will vote.