What sets us apart from the county?

Being a city is not just about having a fire department, police, or utility engineering on staff. The purpose of a city is to create a group of people who will take responsibility for their community and make it a better place. Here is what our city has to offer:

  • Community vision planning underway- Listening to residents & business owners about what they want for the future.
  • Starting in 2022: Okaloosa Tourism Development District funds allocated to the city ($155,000 minimum / year) for use in attracting tourism- ex: community events or business grants etc.
  • Federal grants + programs which take funding infrastructure project burdens off the resident taxpayers (American Rescue Plan:$2.2M, CARES ACT)
  • Locally elected council members who listen and prioritize you- juxtaposed to county commissioners who have 210,000 residents to prioritize.
  • A legitimate phased water/sewer plan to replace infrastructure operating years over its life expectancy.
  • Enhanced law enforcement services within city limits. Two full-time officers.
  • Representation in the Okaloosa-Walton Transportation Planning Organization (TPO) advocating for Mary Esther's residents to the Florida Department of Transportation. ex: what to do about widening Highway 98.
  • Local library providing educational services to residents.

Why have our utility rates increased?

You might think that the increase in the utility rates was arbitrary with no goal in mind. The opposite is true - In 2019 the City Council received a study from its engineer outlining the situation:

“The majority of the existing sanitary sewer system is approximately 30 to 60 years old, is extremely “porous” resulting in severe infiltration and inflow problems and requires continuous maintenance. Based on EPA criteria, the useful life of a sanitary sewer system is 30 years; the City’s system has far exceeded that useful life and the community and the environment are experiencing the consequences of deterioration due to age.”

Based on this study, the sitting city council made a decision to raise the utility rates in order to have the capacity to pay a loan which will finance needed infrastructure projects.

Jan 2022 - Gregory Dr - Water Main Break

An analogy:

Think of Mary Esther as a house with a shingle roof that was installed in 1962 and told that it would last 30 years. We, the residents, live in that house now; the roof is springing leaks and we have had to call the expensive roof repairmen for emergency calls many times. It’s been time for a new roof but no one has stepped up to plan for it or how to pay for it until 2019. We need to take out a loan to replace it. The utility increase is accounting for that monthly debt payment to secure our future.

The first neighborhood on the priority list for replacing the water and sewer pipes in 2022 is Springdale, followed by Azalea.

The other question I and many others have is - what do we do about the future of the sewer processing plant?

Apparently there were assessments and conversations about connecting with FWB or the County, but it's not possible to find that documented anywhere. The 2021 City Council directed staff to generate a study to evaluate the options. Residents deserve to see the options. UPDATE- The report is in the Feburary agenda - item 5b.

The city is finally poised to turn for the better after years of stagnation. The 2020 City council recruited a solid City Manager who is bringing his much needed expertise and enthusiasm to elevate this community to the next level. Infrastructure projects are starting, community engagement is increasing, and growth is occurring.