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HINKLE ANNOUNCES HE WILL SEEK TO ELIMINATE TOLL ON MID-BAY BRIDGE

 

Destin, FL – Today, Okaloosa County GOP Chair, and State House District 4 Conservative Candidate, Jeff Hinkle announced his first bill submitted as our next Representative would be to eliminate the costly, wasteful and double taxing toll on the Mid-Bay Bridge and Spence Pkwy.  Hinkle, who has made it his mission to root out waste in government, will begin work on his plan to eliminate the toll immediately. 

“Taxpayers pay too much and this toll is just another example.  Why should hard working residents get double taxed to cross a bridge which has already collected enough revenue to pay for its construction,” Hinkle asked.  “What we need and deserve is efficient government.  The administrative costs of the bridge are, in and of themselves, way too costly,” Hinkle concluded.

In Okaloosa County, residents have been double taxed by the toll for years and paid the price for mismanagement, poor investment decisions and risky finance schemes by the Mid-Bay Bridge Board.   The debt these politicians have accumulated is $280 million all the while taxing citizens to the tune of $28 million per year.

Since the opening of the bridge, $300 million in tolls have been collected, more than enough to pay for the construction, expansion and interest if the project were managed correctly.  Walton County on the other just opened a bridge that competes with the Mid-Bay Bridge and got the FDOT to fund half of it.  The other half (which ended up only being approximately 25% due to construction savings) they paid for in 1-year with an optional sales tax and they will be out of debt and the state handling the bridge.  Pensacola recently received a new bridge span over the bay at the cost of $400 million that was funded and is maintained by FDOT.

Hinkle conducted an in-depth review of the Bridge Authority’s audited financial statements as well as the recent consultants reports on the operations of the Authority and was stunned at what he found which he has summarized in layman’s terms in a short 2-page summary document that all Okaloosa residents should know.

“The average resident is dealing daily with life and doesn’t have the time or many times the financial accounting skills to understand these audit reports.  It is our duty to break it down in easy to understand language that people can quickly digest and come to a conclusion versus presenting them with obscure posts on websites that are 30 pages in length and difficult at best to understand,” Hinkle said.

You can read the condensed report at his website and Facebook page:  www.jeffforflorida.com and www.facebook.com/jeffforflorida 

Summary Information Mid Bay Bridge Authority Mismanagement

28 mm non cash liability to Eglin to build anything they want in exchange for right of way for 50 years for Spence parkway. This should be zero and Eglin should have contributed half of the build cost as the pkwy is used for operational readiness and to access the range sites.

280 Million in bonds newly issued in 2019 for 20 year face term that carry 180 million in interest obligations over their life at 5.6% which is nearly double what an individual homeowner can get a home loan at today in October 2019.

Excess tolls have been collected to the tune of 7 million per year which has grown a sequestered cash account to 48 million dollars. They have invested this in 1.5% interest bearing account while keeping 280 million in debt that they pay 5.6% on – so we are paying 3.% net difference on the amount sitting in the account to have it borrowed on the other side. Its crazy isn’t it?

Already collected 300 million in tolls over the last 23 years – the money has been squandered on bad decisions by the bridge authority with the county commissioner’s approval.

Original project cost was approximately 215 million including the Spence pkwy / mid bay bridge and the various projects (Danny Wuerfel pkwy expansion and toll plaza expansion etc). 85mm for bridge and 125mm for Spence pkwy.

FDOT 398 million for Pensacola bay bridge paid for by FDOT entirely. NO TOLLS

FDOT / 140 mm for 331 bridge in Walton county – came in 25million less so it was entirely rebated to county against their 50% portion which allowed for only one year of the sales tax to be levied – FDOT owns and maintains the bridge now. Cost to Walton was estimated at 35mm. NO TOLLS

The Bridge authority still has more construction projects planned on their publicly available documents including another matching bridge span and Spence pkwy additions. This is dangerous based on their past decisions and sever financial mismanagement. This risk needs to be eliminated immediately.

Annual 800 k cost for personnel including a highly paid so called “bridge director” with fully funded state of Florida pensions.

Massive traffic jams every Saturday that make traversing the bridge for locals nearly impractical – due to manning tollbooths by paid workers that cause traffic to stop and pay a cash toll – while they just went through an automated sun pass / peach pass / license plate camera system only 5 miles back on the Spence pkwy. The bridge board’s lack of common sense in keeping this system in place and placing this burden on locals is nothing short of astounding and smacks of gross mismanagement.

We are paying as a hidden tax 3.6 million a year to the state to provide for maintenance costs when these are handled for the bridges in the other counties without the undue burden shifted to local working families while FDOT covers this for the bridges in the surrounding areas.

A service worker earning pre- tax 30k per year that has to commute to the island for work 40 hours per week pays nearly 16% of their after tax earnings in tolls which is simply unacceptable. It places an undue tax burden on them as well as makes it difficult for businesses on the island to find and provide opportunities for workers while allowing the workers to live in places north of the bridge with a lower cost of living.

 

SUMMARY and CALL TO ACTION

Why has our leadership been so ineffective at gaining support from Tallahassee and then proceeded to irresponsibly engage in projects that place the full burden on the local citizens and businesses and even more so on the lower income residents and families that live in the north end of the community that need to commute for their income.

After 20 years of this mismanagement do any of us believe the authority will be out of debt and stopping the tolls? I do not and its time we do something about it. 

If the status quo is allowed to continue the citizens and visitors of Destin and the surrounding island locals will have paid over almost 1 billion dollars 20 years from now over the lifetime of these projects which is shocking and borders on gross negligence in my opinion and based on past history will probably still have debt. This millstone of excessive taxes and government waste and mismanagement should not continue to be tied around the necks of Okaloosa county working families and businesses.

I believe the only solution is for:

A) Disband the bridge authority immediately and cut the un needed payroll overhead plaguing the body. This will allow the bridge to be paid faster and prevent un-needed and misguided future projects from happening without the vote and oversight of Okaloosa voters.

B) FDOT should assume the bridge and pkwy immediately and pay off the external bond holders that are charging excessive interest rates based on the poor standing of a single authority. They recently provided funds to Walton and Escambia counties and should budget and plan for this as well to rescue the citizens of Okaloosa from the mismanagement of the board and inaction and poor oversight of the county commission.

C) Stop the tolls at the bridge and Spence pkwy immediately. This will allow for 28 million to be kept in the county by families that can spend it locally and will be a nice shot in the arm to the economy as well will immediately cut the traffic issues at the toll booth on Saturdays.

D) The air force and federal government should forgive the bad deal that calls for a 28 million obligation against the local county taxpayers for something that is a benefit as well to the base operations and their personnel as a good citizen and in good partnership with our locals.

Leaders in our current government including Representative Mel Ponder, Representative Matt Gaetz, Governor Ron Desantis, the Florida senate and house and the FDOT have an incredible opportunity to rescue the citizens of Okaloosa from this monster of bad decision making that has penalized out people for far too long and has no end in sight. There is a bright opportunity for them to be heroes here and do the right thing. Either way I will fight for this solution when I am elected as your representative. All I need is the opportunity and I will bring my seasoned business skills to bear to stop this naked and flagrant abuse of our people.

All figures are approximations from material available to the public including the 2018 audited financial results of the mid bay bridge authority and the consultant’s report. Additional sources and background obtained from the community and new sources. Please contact us with additional important information or corrections.

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