A two year old land deal is becoming a central issue in one of this year's county commission races. District-5 candidate Jim Lawson is blasting incumbent Mike Thomas for voting in favor of the deal, in-which the county bought a bankrupt townhouse development adjacent to the navy base. Lawson calls it a bailout at tax-payer's expense.
The county bought the Barefoot Palms townhouses for $2.9 million dollars. The property sits next to Naval Support Activity-Panama City.
The military considers civilian encroachment when deciding base cuts and four of the five commissioners said they wanted to keep someone else from building on the property.
In exchange, the navy has plans to repay the county within five years but candidate Jim Lawson says the deal was nothing more than a bail-out for the bankrupt developer.
"You've got hard working people in Bay County who can't pay their taxes and they face foreclosure. We have a beach millionaire, who was facing foreclosure.. it's in the minutes of the county meeting" said Lawson Friday.
Lawson's opponent in the primary, incumbent Mike Thomas, says Lawson has it all wrong. Thomas says neither the property nor the project was in foreclosure, only the individual townhouses.
Lawson also criticized the county's decision to split any profits with the property owner, if the navy doesn't buy and the land has to be re-sold.
"That developer gets half the profit, and so does Bay County. That's wrong. That's not leadership, that's not good government" added Lawson.
But Thomas says it is. He also says the deal is a long-term investment in Bay County's future.
"The tax-payers will take a big hit, and a good hit. They'll have eight more acres, more high paying jobs, and engineers, and military services and putting it on the payroll. We'll take a hit and a wonderful hit" said Commissioner Thomas.
The navy appropriated the money for the land in 2010, but the bill died in Congress.