A long shot pays off

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Okaloosa County Commissioner Nathan Boyles goes live on Facebook in Holt to announce Holt Fire District’s new fire station funding June 29.

The state of Florida will fund a new fire station for the Holt Fire District to the tune of $813,000

HOLT, Fla., June 29, 2020—The call came in early afternoon with exciting news.

Holt Fire Commissioner Jim Conners got a call from Okaloosa County Commissioner Nathan Boyles telling him Holt Fire District made the cut in the governor’s budget: Holt will get a new fire station.

When Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the 2020-2021 fiscal year budget today, it included $813,000 for Holt to build the new facility it desperately needs.

“I figured I’d get a call after six o’clock tomorrow night saying ‘I’m sorry…’” said Connors. “I’m still trying to process this.”

Holt Fire District Chief Scott Chestnut was feeling a little stunned as well when he heard the news.

“It seems unreal, but persistence does pay off,” he said.

The journey toward a new station began in earnest in August last year when the Okaloosa County Board of County Commissioners approved the legislative allocation. From there it traveled to Tallahassee to compete with the rest of the statewide requests.

At the end of the road, the governor whittled down a $93.2 billion budget by $1 billion that included Holt’s fire station request.

“This is so exciting,” said Holt Fire Capt. Shelly Chestnut.

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Holt Fire Capt. Shelly Chestnut talks to Commissioner Nathan Boyles about the need for a new fire station during a live Facebook post June 29.

Holt Fire has been operating out of the same structure for the past 42 years. For the last few years, the building has been slowly deteriorating around the unit, and rats have been feasting on the trucks and other safety equipment.

“Rodents have caused us to have tens of thousands of dollars of work done on the trucks,” said Shelly Chestnut.

The newest fire engine, a 2005 tanker engine, has been out of commission for the past year as $25,000 worth of rat damage was repaired.

There is no way to renovate the existing facility. Built in the 1970s by the Holt Ruritans as a community center, truck bays were added at different times, piecemealing everything together to provide a home for Holt Fire.

The result is a building that’s not up to code with a roof that’s about to fall in.

“There is no way to rehabilitate it. No one will insure us on it,” said Shelly Chestnut. “All our quotes that we got were to demolish it.”

As a volunteer district, there’s no funding for a new station.

Holt is a “volunteer fire department, (has a) very small tax base (with) barely enough money to keep the trucks running (with) realistically no funding,” said Boyles during a site visit to congratulate Holt Fire.

Initially, Holt Fire approached Boyles asking for the county’s help in funding a new station.

“And I said, ‘no, we don’t have money for that,’” he said. “But I said, ‘let’s go talk to the legislature.’”

— “Frankly, we thought it was a long shot. Typically, fire department funding, more often than not, gets vetoed.”— 

Okaloosa County Commissioner Nathan Boyles

In stepped State Rep. Jayer Williamson, District 3. He championed Holt Fire’s need to the state legislature. The result was every penny of the $813,000 asked for was approved in the next fiscal year’s budget that begins July 1.

“He went to work in Tallahassee,” said Boyles. “Frankly, we thought it was a long shot. Typically, fire department funding, more often than not, gets vetoed.”

But the legislature approved the request…before COVID-19. As the pandemic ramped up,  all bets on getting the funding were off.

A number of items—$1 billion worth—were struck from the budget by the governor’s line-item veto authority.

“We were expecting this to be one of those,” Boyles said.

However, Holt’s request—one of more than 25 fire-related requests across the entire state that were struck from the budget—was approved.

“The governor has signed the budget,” said Boyles. “It’s final. It’s a done deal.”

The long shot paid off.

“So many people over the years have done things they probably don’t even realize, to make this day possible,” said Scott Chestnut. “I want to thank Commissioner Boyles and Rep. Williamson for pushing this through, all our fire department members for their hard work and the Holt Fire District Board of Commissioners for all they do.”

The new station will be built on a corner of the Holt Park, property owned by Holt Fire District.

Stephanie Holcombe

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