I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

What are the Economic Consequences for the BCC if the Beach Property Tax Decision Stands?

Escambia County is holding $9.8 Million Dollars in escrowed tax proceeds from Beach Leaseholders--and will return this money to taxpayers if the recent ruling from the DCA stands

Some Pensacola Beach Condominium owners were happy with last week's decision from the 1st District Court of Appeals--because the decision sided with their cause;  they will not have to pay ad valorem taxes on the property they lease--only on the improvements made to the leased land--if this decision stands.

The story was covered extensively by the local media.

News outlets have also reported, and I have confirmed with reliable sources, that this decision will be appealed by the property appraiser.

But what are the economic consequences for the BCC's budget  if the beach tax decision stands for Escambia County (Pensacola Beach) lease holders?

I have asked the question of staff and have been told that we (Escambia BCC) have escrowed the funds that were subject to this decision for the last five tax years, 2011-2016, in the event that the monies collected have to be returned to these lease holders.

Currently, the county holds roughly $9.8 Million dollars in reserves for repayment of these tax remittances--if the court upholds the DCA ruling and we are ordered to refund the monies collected.

Although it is difficult to ascertain the exact financial impact the decision would have if it stands--I am told that it would be safe to estimate the reduction in tax collections for the county going forward to be between $1.2-$2.2 Million dollars yearly.....

But everything remains in limbo for the time being and until such time as all the appeals are settled.  And we will keep escrowing these funds as we collect them-- in the event that we have to return them at some point down the line.

R.A.M. Coming to Pensacola December 2-3

What is R.A.M.?

RAM stands for Remote Area Medical.  This effort is coming together with community volunteers, medical professionals, Dentists, Doctors, Optometrists, and Nurses to provide free basic medical, dental, and vision services to the under-served population in Pensacola.

The event locally will be held at my Alma Matter, Pensacola High School, on December 2nd and 3rd.

These events draw thousands of people to communities around the nation; sometimes these folks wait for days to see a doctor, dentist, or optometrist because they are uninsured, underinsured and/or cannot pay for necessary procedures.

I strongly support this effort, and I have asked County Administration to prepare an agenda item for this Thursday's regular board meeting to fund $2500.00 to this effort from my District 1 Discretionary funds.  This money, I'm told, will fund additional security from the Escambia County Sheriff's Department for "dedicated police coverage for this event."

This event is an excellent example of the good that can be done with BCC discretionary funds--because we have them available-- when combined with a worthwhile community effort.

You can learn more about this effort and sign up to volunteer here.

You can watch an ABC Nightline segment about R.A.M. below.

You can watch a short clip from the CBS 60 Minutes segment on R.A.M. below

Monday, October 16, 2017

Fixing the Law Enforcement Trust Fund Expenditure Process Locally, Part III: Asking the Question

The BCC voted to reform our process locally to more of a competitive process like that which is used by Sheriff Scott Israel in Broward County....

The County Commissioners have voted unanimously to ask the Attorney General specific questions about our current process for allocating funds from the Law Enforcement Trust Fund.  There have been numerous complaints about the process, and at the last meeting the commissioners voted not only to ask the AG for an opinion--but the BCC also voted to reform the process to more closely mirror the excellent process utilized in Broward County.  Here (below) is the four page letter that was sent out to the Florida Attorney General today asking for her opinion....

Click READ MORE to see PAGE 3 and 4, BELOW

Beulah Beltway Meeting Redux

The next Beulah Beltway meeting will be well-organized, well managed, and will be much more orderly than the first one..

.....The first meeting on this subject did not go so well.  We're doing it again.

This time, we are having the meeting in a large venue, with air conditioning, an agenda, and an opportunity for citizens to submit specific questions that can be addressed by the assembled staff.

 Q and A information on this project here

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Clause for Outside Agency Funding Agreements Generates Concern

Charitable entities and 501(c)3 organizations that receive funding from the BCC recently received notification like this one above-- about a clause that will be added to their agreements to address a potential BCC contingent liability...

At the conclusion of our budget meeting a few weeks back, when we were discussing the funding of outside agencies, the BCC decided it would be good to have a mechanism in our funding agreements with these agencies to address a contingent liability that may be hanging over our collective heads.

As we have all heard, the Sheriff has stated that he intends to appeal his budget allotment to the Governor--he wants an additional $2.7 Million over what we gave him (his total demand was for an 8% year over year budget increase which we could not afford) The BCC compromised-- and funded his office such that all ECSO employees would get 3% pay increases (the fifth year in a row that his men have been funded by the BCC for 3% raises)--but he still wants additional money.

Although it is unlikely that the Governor would compel the BCC to fully fund the Sheriff's request-we nevertheless need to prepare for any eventuality.

Raising property tax rates on existing property owners in the county is not something I will support, and I doubt the full BCC would raise tax rates to fund any shortfall either.

Therefore, the  BCC added a clause to all agreements that allows the funding to such outside agencies to be cut and pulled back in the event of an adverse financial outcome for the BCC as a result of the Sheriff's appeal.

The discussion that day on the dais made it clear that this (pulling money back from charitable entities and 501 (c) 3 organizations) would only happen as a last ditch effort, if a worst-case scenario came to be.  Alternate funding, or other grant funding, would be sought for these groups in the event an appeal by the Sheriff is upheld by the Governor's administration commission--that was my sense of the conversation that day.  We truly do not want to pull money back from any of these groups.

Be that as it may, we had to let the outside agencies know what was happening, and therefore an email like the one above was sent out to the appropriate contacts at each of the agencies that received the funding from the BCC.  The total amount of the funding for outside, charitable entities and 501(c)3 organizations was just a bit over $1.6 Million.

Is a "Big-Box" Grocery Store and Outparcels Coming to Beulah?

Often before the Development Review Committee is even given an application by a developer, an initial notification of proposed development is run through the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT).

I was notified recently about a request made of  FDOT by a developer that wishes to build a full-scale, big-box grocery store complete with outparcels, in Beulah.  The location is the southeast corner of the intersection of Beulah Road and 9-Mile road-- a large parcel of land that includes the site of the former "Tavern in the Country" that burned down a few years back.

I'm interested to see what company is coming into Beulah--and hopefully the outparcels (if all is approved) will have some more and better dining options for Beulah residents--so we don't have to drive all the way down Pine Forest to get to a restaurant...

I'll post more about this potential development as more information becomes available.... See the three page pre-application made to FDOT below..

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Fixing the Law Enforcement Trust Fund Expenditure Process Locally, Part II

Sheriff Scott Israel of Broward County has developed an excellent process for ranking and submitting LETF requests to the Board of County Commissioners in his County.  Escambia County Commissioners want to model our process on this successful model

At the regular meeting of the Escambia Board of County Commissioners on Thursday, October 5th 2017, the board unanimously voted to ask the Florida Attorney General to provide an advisory opinion about our current process for approving expenditures from our Law Enforcement Trust Fund (LETF).  There is continuing concern that the process being utilized does not comport with statute.

the board also voted 3-1 to revise the BCC's process locally for how we approve expenditures to be more like the process is in Broward County.  Sheriff Scott Israel has an excellent process that the board here locally favors.  I was honored that my fellow board members have asked me to lead a committee in implementing an improved process--and I am excited to lead this effort and I look forward to reforming the process in Escambia County--working with the Sheriff.

A couple of important notes are worth mentioning here--some folks have not listened closely and are working from a "low-information" perspective so I need to be clear.

1.  Only the Sheriff can request expenditures from the BCC's LETF.  Only the sheriff can.  The vast majority of of previous expenditures are appropriate.
2.  Only the BCC has the authority to approve or deny such requests. Only the BCC
3.  The BCC voted to improve OUR process for approval of requests
4.  The BCC has neither sought to impose control over the Sheriff's portion of the process ( his internal review leading to a request being made of the BCC ) nor are we telling him how to allocate funds requested from the BCC's LETF--these decisions are his to make.
5.  Citizens have questioned some of the spending, and this led to a complaint to the State Attorney, which necessitated BCC to engage more closely in the process.  Nothing more, nothing less, no politics involved.