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.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Town Hall and Coffee with the Commissioner Recap

District 1 County Commissioner Jeff Bergosh Hosted the first of 6 yearly
town-hall meetings on Tuesday, February 21st at Windy Hill Baptist Church in Beulah
We had a very nice turnout for the first of a series of District 1 town-hall meetings last night.  I want to thank all of the citizens, staff, and special guests that came to the meeting and participated.  I want to give a special thank you to the County's Public Relations staff for bringing all of the necessary equipment for a successful event (podium, microphones, audio and video recording equipment).  A special thank you goes out to Pastor Ricky Skaggs of Windy Hill Baptist Church for allowing us the use of his facility 
Prior to the Town Hall meeting, WCOA radio interviewed me on Good Morning Pensacola, and this interview can be heard here (part 1) and here (part 2). 
This morning, we had a group of about a dozen citizens stop by the first of our monthly "Coffee with the Commissioner" events at Hardees on Pine Forest Road.  The conversations were very good and the citizens at the coffee were concerned with safe neighborhoods and how the county can support the nurturing of neighborhood watch programs.  We also had 5 citizens total that strongly supported the County vacating Rawson Lane so Pensacola Christian College could expand their campus.  We also discussed drainage issues and we were given a thorough explanation of the various types of retention ponds in Escambia County by County Administrator Jack Brown, who stopped in to greet the citizens.
District 1 County Commissioner Jeff Bergosh listens to Citizens at his
Coffee with the Commissioner event 2-21-2017

District 1 County Commissioner Jeff Bergosh speaks to Citizens at his
Coffee with the Commissioner event 2-21-2017

 County Administrator Jack Brown (left) speaks  to Citizens about retention ponds 
at the District 1 Coffee with the Commissioner event, 2-21-2017

Friday, February 17, 2017

Objective Facility Assessments Will Help Enable Intelligent Construction Decisions

from the discussions that ensued at last night's BCC meeting, the casual observer might think our fire station at Myrtle Grove is a shack that should be condemned....

The fact of the matter is we don't know what we don't know.  There are 8 stations the County does not own that volunteer firefighters own that have various levels of facility deficiencies.  So when the discussion last night about Myrtle Grove turned to "Let's build a brand new station, and nothing short of that will suffice"  I attempted to inject a bit of fiscal restraint, common sense, and intelligence into the issue.  First of all, the mold remediation should have happened months ago--although I understand some of the politics behind this not happening as quickly as it should have.  I'm glad the board voted 4-1 last night to go ahead and fix this mold issue expeditiously--which will allow the paid crew to return to the facility to help the volunteer crew that has still been running calls out of the station. Looking forward,  I'm going to push for standard facility condition assessments to be conducted on all of these 8 fire houses, which hopefully will lead to a ranking from worst to best, 1 to 8, which will allow rational rather than emotional decision making on which facilities need to be rebuilt first.  We should not be parochial in our facility planning and building decisions; it ought not be about what district a facility is located in, or which community wants something.  When it comes to public safety and facilities for first responders-- lets be intelligent and rational and build where we need to build and renovate where we need to renovate. 

Millions Uncollected...

for FY 2016-2017, Escambia County was stiffed for $2.2Million in unpaid Ambulance Ride Bills....

One of the items that was discussed at yesterday's BCC meeting was the write-down of $2.2Million Dollars in bad debts.  The debt is not being forgiven, according to our back-up documentation and reiterated by staff, but this debt has already gone through primary and secondary collections processes, and now for accounting purposes this is being removed from the books.  According to staff, this will go to a debt collector, and the forecast is that we "may" collect $40,000-80,000 of this $2.2Million.  At the meeting, staff and a couple of  commissioners stated that although this is a large amount, our percentage of overall collection of fees for the EMS department is about 65%--which is among the best percentages in the state.  I have to question this big of a loss, I'm going to look into how other counties do this--maybe someone has a better method of going after those that do not pay?  If  nothing else--this is a huge eye-opener.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Fire Service Facilities

Should the paid fire crews take every fire call and leave the volunteers at the stations to run medical calls?
This Thursday's County Commission meeting will have an important discussion about a fire service facility in Escambia County that desperately needs mold remediation and some other repairs. 

This meeting topic, how to fix the Myrtle Grove fire station, is just one conversation of many that need to be taking place in the months to come, in my opinion. 

While Myrtle Grove's facility deficiencies are unique to Myrtle Grove---seven other fire houses in the county (that like Myrtle Grove are not owned by the county) have various issues that will need to be addressed at some time in the near future.

So what is the best way to address these facility problems, knowing the county won't spend money on facilities the county doesn't own?

One option, the expensive one, is to buy these facilities outright from the volunteer fire departments that own them currently.  Next, such facilities could be demolished and new fire houses built at a cost to taxpayers of around $2-$3Million dollars each.  This is the option I favor the least....

A better option, in my opinion, is to allow the volunteer departments to keep ownership of their property and facilities, with the county coming in to remediate these facilities' deficiencies in exchange for  long term use agreement (s) for the county to use these stations. 

This option is less expensive, and I believe it will also serve to compel the career staffs that will in some cases be operating out of these locations to better cooperate and interact with the volunteer staffs that also operate out of these stations.

What do I mean by this?

Right now, the volunteer firefighter numbers are dwindling.  Many I have spoken with have shared with me that they worry they will be "forced out" when career crews come to man their stations.

Volunteer firefighters have the same certifications and training as their career counterparts--yet these personnel cost a fraction of what career firefighters cost in terms of salaries, benefits, and pension costs. 

I'm told one 12 man paid, career crew costs taxpayers $1Million dollars per year. 

So we should be treating the volunteers very well, we should thank them for their willingness to serve, right?  Unfortunately, in some instances this is not happening.

"We're treated like second class citizens" one veteran volunteer shared with me.  "When the new career guys arrived, they started taking all the fire calls, leaving us at the station to do medical

Friday, February 10, 2017

Plumbing Issue Erupts between City and local Plumbers Association

Many private sector plumbers locally have
said they think this situation stinks!

The issue between the private sector plumbers of Escambia County and the City of Pensacola has played out quietly behind closed doors, on limited social media outlets, and in the email inboxes of elected officials locally via wave after wave of emails.......  It has been relatively low key thus far.

I think this is about to change.

Now a very well respected and high-profile attorney locally has weighed in on the side of the plumbers.  Many of us received a copy of the letter this attorney sent to the city yesterday.

The issue is simple:  Should the public sector (Pensacola Energy) unfairly compete with the private sector with respect to installations of gas appliances in homes in the county?  The private sector can't compete with the prices the public sector is offering, and the local plumbers are losing work.

According to a local plumbing contractor I spoke with, the difference in price can be substantial.

"If I do a home installation of a tankless gas water heater in a house--the costs can exceed $1700 dollars.  If Pensacola Energy does it, they do it for the cost of the appliance.  I can't compete with that price because I have overhead to pay.   It's not fair." said this plumber.

The issue was on the agenda for the County and the City to discuss at the recent joint meeting, however at the last minute the City unilaterally pulled the item from the agenda.

The County sent a letter to the city requesting specific answers about this practice.  In response, the city declined to answer but offered to facilitate individual, one-on-one meetings with each commissioner to "explain" the practice.

The recent animosity between plumbers and Pensacola Energy might
be on the verge of rupturing like a broken water line...

Because long ago I read and I fully understand Blackford v School Board of Orange County --I do not participate in scheduled, one-after another,  one-issue staff/board meetings.  Such meetings serve to circumvent the open meeting law--so I don't do them.

So with no forward progress, It appears as if the plumbers are going the legal route...... 

From the letter:

"....activities by Pensacola Energy violate several federal and state laws, including without limitation:

  (1) Sherman "Antitrust" Act, 15 U.S.C. 1-7
  (2) Florida's Antitrust Act; Fla. Stat.  523.15 et. seq.
  (3) Fla. Stat.  501.201 et seq......

....By publically endorsing select members of the "plumber partners" cartel, the City of Pensacola is

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Alarming Statistics on HIV/AIDS Infections in Escambia County

The Black Community Locally, According to WUWF, is over-represented with cases of HIV/AIDS.  According to WebMD, the highest risk behaviors that lead to such infections are unprotected male homosexual sex, unprotected sex with multiple partners, and intravenous drug abuse.
Overshadowed by the conclusion of the interstate murder spree of Billy Boyette  yesterday, as well as Tornados wrecking areas West of us--was a very interesting and heartbreaking story on WUWF about HIV/AIDS infection rates locally.

February is Black History Month, and February 7th is Black HIV/AIDS awareness day.

In this very alarming radio piece--some sobering statistics were given:

In the four-county area (Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, and Walton Counties)--just over 2,000 persons are currently infected with HIV/AIDS.  Of this total, 65% of these cases are in Escambia County.

Sadly, the Black community is over-represented in this category of persons afflicted with HIV--in fact the guest on the show stated "It is still an epidemic" in the Black community.

Blacks make up just 15% of Florida's population--yet Blacks account for 50% of the AIDS Infections statewide, according to this program.

Escambia County's Black Population is about 23%--yet Blacks account for more than 50% of the HIV/AIDS cases in Escambia County according to the WUWF piece.

Interestingly, not much was discussed during the program as to the "why" Blacks appear to be overrepresented in this category.  The guest on the show stated that many people purposely do not get tested for HIV/AIDS because they "Don't want to know their status."  Many agencies offer free and confidential screening for this disease--yet those at high risk continue to avoid being tested.

So why this overrepresentation that acutely affects the Black Community?  Could the reason be the

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Why Not a Tent City for Some Prisoners?

If it is humane for Soldiers and Marines to sleep on cots in tents
as these men defend our freedoms overseas, how is it inhumane for
prisoners who break law to sleep on cots in tents?

Escambia County is rebuilding the jail that exploded in the massive flood of April,  2014. 

The costs are going to be astronomical.

I'm told it could top  $135 Million.

"Why must it cost so much?" has been my continuing question.

Now I'm hearing that the number of inmates our new jail is being designed to accommodate is a number that is less than the number of prisoners we're holding right now! (many of our inmates are being housed in other jurisdictions due to our current jail issue)

So my question, in addition to why the costs MUST be so high, is this:  Why can't we build a compliant jail and also build in capacity for a tent-city outside facility for certain prisoners--to help accommodate what will be a large number of inmates locally?

Now, I'm not saying every prisoner should be housed in a tent city style outdoor, uncomfortable jail.

But many should be, in my opinion. 

And before bleeding-heart types start talking about how "cruel" this would be--remember that right now as we speak there are United States Army personnel sleeping in similar accommodations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other areas around the world. 

Anyone who would call a tent city detention facility cruel and unusual needs to rationally explain to