LOST tax dollars 'bring more smiles to more faces'

By Jody Conrad | Special to the Press Gazette

If you’re like most folks, it probably never occurred to you that playgrounds have life expectancies.

Enter Tammy Crisco Simmons, facilities manager for Santa Rosa County Parks, whose job it is to assess playgrounds, plan for their replacement, and stretch the allocated monies as far as they will go to provide the most bang for the buck.

This playground in Bagdad was recently updated.

“The average life expectancy of a playground is 15 years,” Crisco Simmons said. “When their time is up, part of my job is to submit proposals to our county commissioners, who decide which parks to replace and when.”

The process begins with applications for Florida Recreation Development Assistance Programs (FRDAP) grants. Then, funding from electric bill franchise fees and local options sales tax (LOST), which were approved by voters in Santa Rosa County, are matched 50/50 with the amounts applied for via FRDAP grants.

As an example, the recent upgrades to the facilities at the Bagdad Community Center used $250,000 in FRDAP funds, $148,500 in LOST funds, and $101,500 in electric franchise funds.

The result is a new inclusive play place and recreation area that people of all ages and ability levels in the Bagdad area can enjoy.

Much of the new playground resembles a pirate ship.

“We build all-inclusive parks these days,” Crisco Simmons said. For example, “we had a merry-go-round installed there at surface level, so it is wheelchair accessible.

“We also installed swings that will accommodate special needs folks," she added. "It used to be that playgrounds were for kids aged 2-12, but now we focus on inclusive parks where even care-givers can interact and participate.”

Simmons meets with residents in the areas to be upgraded to discuss the design ideas and needs of the local residents as part of the planning process. Bagdad residents asked for both a lumber yard and pirate theme, and both of these requests were incorporated into the new playground. New sidewalks connect all areas of the park, including the newly resurfaced tennis and basketball courts, new restrooms, and picnic pavilions.

This is a rendering of the planned Benny Russell Park improvements.

Other projects in the works in Santa Rosa County include Benny Russell Park on North Spencer Field Road, and Swenson Park near Gulf Breeze.

“We have a lot more projects going on than ever before because of the LOST funds,” Crisco Simmons said. “These funds are allowing us to bring more smiles to more faces than we’d been able to in the past.”