City of Milton Manager Brian Watkins let the Santa Rosa County Commissioners know the parcel owners downtown are all willing to negotiate sale for a new courthouse. However, BOCC support for the location wanes due to the smaller footprint than other sites and the design's exclusion of the state attorney's and public defender's offices.

City of Milton Manager Brian Watkins updated the Santa Rosa County Board of County Commissioners Monday on where the city stands in securing the properties needed for construction of a new courthouse in downtown Milton. While Watkins said all property owners would be willing to at least negotiate terms of sale, BOCC discussion focused on support or lack thereof for the site. By the end, only two commissioners remained supportive. If the BOCC goes with Chairman Salter’s suggestion, the board could vote in early November whether to keep downtown Milton as a site for the future courthouse.

Cole, Chairman Salter, and Commissioner Rob Williamson doubted the feasibility of the downtown site.Commissioner Bob Cole has consistently supported looking for alternates to the downtown site. He said he would be fine with the property in Milton but not where they have to “hunt and peck” for properties. Salter, as well, said there was no need to try to place the courthouse into a tight spot with other parcels available.

Rob Williamson, not part of the process in the past, said the vote was based on incorrect information since the cost of the parcels downtown was based on the assessed value and not concrete contracts. He said, “This is just a courthouse we’re talking about, not a complete judicial center. It still doesn’t provide for the state attorney’s office or the public defender.”

Commissioners Jayer Williamson and Lane Lynchard still supported the downtown site based on the August 2014 election. Lynchard said he supported the site based on the vote while Jayer Williamson supported a referendum to let the citizens decide if it should still go there “and let the people have a voice.”

While Watkins assured the BOCC all property owners with the needed parcels were willing to negotiate the sale, he also reminded the board the City of Milton found businesses downtown rely on the daily foot traffic to and from the courthouse. Watkins told the board, “With a cursory look, we found that there are 19 businesses in downtown Milton that…get their business from the people that come down and support the courthouse.”

Watkins later said those 19 included the public attorney, title companies, bail bonds, and restaurants and retail. “We’ve had some comments by some downtown owners who said they believe the courthouse provides 30 percent of their daily traffic. If they lose that, it will be a significant cut in business.”

As stated, Salter suggested the BOCC vote in November whether or not to keep the downtown Milton site. Thursday, he may make this an official motion, so check back with the Press Gazette Saturday to see the result.