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By Tom McLaughlin | 315-4435 | @TomMnwfdn | *protected email*

SANTA ROSA BEACH — Leaders of the movement to incorporate South Walton County have decided to wait until 2018 to push for the state’s permission to hold a referendum to decide the matter.

“We feel we need another year to work on the process and address the concerns of local legislators, county officials and the local community,” said David Pleat, president of A Better South Walton.

A Better South Walton has been working since early 2015 to put together a package presenting the case for incorporation. The group wants to form a municipality that encompassed the entire area south of Choctawhatchee Bay from the Okaloosa County east to Bay County.

Weeks ago the group turned over a draft charter and a request for legislative approval to hold a referendum to state Rep. Brad Drake.

Drake would be responsible for introducing the bill that calls for a referendum to the Florida Legislature. With his support, the local legislation likely would draw little opposition in Tallahassee.

The decision to withdraw the request comes two weeks before a scheduled Feb. 27 public hearing on the incorporation issue.

Walton County’s legislative delegation, composed of Drake and state Sen. George Gainer, was slated to host the hearing that would allow time for supporters and opponents of incorporation to speak.

Drake has said he would decide how best to handle A Better South Walton’s referendum request only after hearing from all sides of the issue.

The 2017 legislative session begins March 7.

Pleat said he intends to contact Drake and Gainer and let them know his group will not request for a place on the public hearing’s agenda.

Drake did not return a phone call seeking comment. A request for comment from Gainer had not arrived by press time.

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