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.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Port of Pensacola Economic Development Initiative: Rock em' Sock em' Robots

Supporters and Opponents of the potential Incoa Performance Minerals, Inc. Port of Pensacola economic development proposal are sending out opposing emails delineating their respective opinions and concerns....

In a series of emails the commissioners have recently received, It appears that battle lines are being drawn over the potential deal with Incoa, Inc. to bring roughly 70 jobs to the port, paying an average salary of $60K yearly, along with  a $100 Million Dollar capital investment commitment.

It will be interesting to watch this discussion.  It would be fantastic if a compromise could be reached on this to keep the company and also some sort of a mixed use of the port as well.  We will see how it evolves....

From an email sent out in support of this deal:

"I believe the City Council will vote today to investigate a lease with Incoa at the port of 
Pensacola. As Director of First Place Partners, a private-sector economic development 
support organization made up of more than 45 local companies, I support this lease for 
several reasons:
— We need good paying jobs in Pensacola.  Our average per capital income is $39,582 - much
 lower than the state average of $46,858.  This lease brings 77 jobs averaging more than
— The city of Pensacola needs the revenue. Facing the largest proposed budget in the city’s
 history, this project means almost $1 million a year to help taxpayers. 

I’m sure you are aware that one in four children in Escambia County live in poverty. We lag
 behind in many economic categories.  Good jobs are so important to our working families
 - more important than building condos for rich people.  

Thanks for your consideration,"

The folks who are leery of this deal, however, have many concerns.  From their email: 

"Our concerns leaving the discussion is that this proposal has the potential to be noisy, dust producing and a huge operation and my questions are as follows: 
Has due diligence been performed on the principals involved in this venture?
Will anyone involved with a financial stake call Pensacola their home and move their family here?.
What prevents any of the current players from selling their interest and moving away? 
Are these companies shell companies with no recourse if commitments are not met?
Our initial research shows foreign entities with Limited Liability status that are not required to show owner’s names and may not be subject to suit in the US if things go awry.
INCOA Performance Minerals is registered in Delaware as a foreign limited liability company with a mailing address in Salt Lake City Utah. 
The trademark INCAL (we believe this is the product name) is listed under Whitehaven Partners LTD with a Utah address and shows up as a corporation registered in the Cayman Islands.
YouTube videos of Calcium Carbonate Processing facilities show these to be noisy, dust producing and huge scale enterprises. 
What traffic studies have been discussed as to moving the processed calcium carbonate through our downtown neighborhoods?
Has thought been given to requirements to soundproof these warehouses and silos that this company intends to occupy? 
Obviously, we are all coming in at the 11th hour but the concern is about the future welfare of our beautiful city."

County Road Prison Welding Program Stats: Successful for Some

The Board of County Commissioners and the Escambia County School District will be renewing the partnership to provide skills training for prisoners at the road camp.  At a yearly cost of roughly $70,000.00 per year--prisoners are offered training in welding by a certified instructor.  Upon successful completion of a welding program--jobs are available.

But what are the metrics?  How many complete, how many go on to work in the field, and how many re-offend and end up back in the criminal justice system?

These are important questions, and the answer as it relates to the most recent class of graduates has been provided by jail commander Selina Barnes:

"As of today, in reference to the participants that were enrolled in the welding program at the County Road Prison for the 2016-2017 school year, the totals are below.

34 enrolled in the program
4 were removed for various reasons which left 30 in the program

According to Mr. XXXXXXXX…….as of today (from the school year program above and the 30 participants), 12 have contacted him and are currently working in the field
10 no contact has been made from the participants
8 have been re-arrested"

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Great News For Area Fishermen!

I received the below email today from Robert Turpin, the BCC's  Director of Marine Services.

"Skanska [the contractor that is building the new 3-Mile bridge] deployed approx. 150 concrete piling cut-off pieces (approx. 800 tons) in Escambia Near-Shore East Artificial Reef Site at 30 Deg 17.750'N; 087 Deg 13.500'W (approx. 4.5nmi ESE of Pensacola Pass). Water depth at the site is 45 feet."

This is great news for area they know exactly where to go for this new structure which will become habitat for all sorts of fish species in the years to come.

Thanks to Skanska and hats off to everyone from the county and state that was involved in making this happen!

Here are the pictures, below, of the piles being taken out and dropped.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Pensacola Beach and the BCC: Reasonable Topics for Discussion

Tonight's joint meeting of the Escambia Board of County Commissioners and the Santa Rosa Island Authority is a meeting where, hopefully, reasonable topics can be discussed rationally and reasonably.  I called this meeting so some important, pressing issues could be discussed and also so  that a sense of where individual Commissioners and Authority Members are on these issues can be known.  Leases and renewals, Roundabouts, parking, and the toll booth---Are these reasonable topics for discussion?

I certainly believe they are and I look forward to the dialogue.

1.  Leases and lease renewals:  there are disparities and inequities among and between lease holders on the beach.  Some leaseholders pay taxes on the land and the improvements and lease fees, some pay tax on the improvements and not on the land (but they pay nominal lease fees and a beach fire MSBU), recently an entire condo complex of 93 units renewed their leases (lease fees) for essentially $280 dollars per year per unit--which is significantly, dramatically below market value.  The taxpayers were not treated well at all in that instance.  So what is reasonable here?  I think it is reasonable for the BCC to set some rules for renewals going forward so the taxpayers are treated fairly as these leases come in for renewal.  These $150 yearly leases were designed to incentivize beach development--and that has now happened.  Now it is time for market rate lease fees on new renewals, and  I will suggest that we require a few things of those interested in renewing their leases going forward....

--No master lease renewals? (lease renewals with individual property occupants only--not with master lease holders that charge sub lessees a margin over their cost)--is this reasonable?
--Individual leases to be renewed?  Should individual renewal leases carry either new language stipulating they become a perpetually renewing lease (that requires payment of ad valorem taxes on land and improvements and no lease fees) OR language delineating these individually as  99-year leases with a current, market rate lease fee on land payable yearly to SRIA (in an amount not less than what ad valorem tax on such land would be) and ad valorem taxes payable on improvements--and no lease fees to SRIA.?  Would this be reasonable?
--All leases to be recorded with the clerk.  Is this reasonable-- It is not happening now but I think it is reasonable to expect this going forward.
--Any other stipulations that make sense and are reasonable to guide the actual renegotiation of these leases?

2.  Parking--should we consider carving out some prime parking spots at the casino beach lot (perhaps 50% of the lot) for premium paid parking?  (with 50% of  casino beach and lots outside the beach core remaining "free parking")  How much more parking should we build and where?

3.  Toll Booth--should we make it fully automated, in stages over a two year period?  Should we reduce the cost to $.50 cents and make up the difference with the parking fees?  Should we remove the toll altogether and make 75% of the casino beach lot a paid lot to achieve the same revenue as the toll booth would have generated if we remove the tolls altogether?

4.  Roundabouts--do the residents want these--or would making the toll booth automated or removing the toll booth altogether alleviate the traffic to the point where roundabouts become unnecessary?  Do residents actually want the roundabouts?  Is this reasonable to ask?

I look forward to some interesting and hopefully reasonable conversations at tonight's meeting.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Escambia County Corrections and Jail Medical Receive a Clean State Audit

I received the following email from Jail Commander Selina Barnes as a result of the yearly compliance audit that was conducted Friday morning at our County Correctional facilities:

"Please see the attached FMJS Medical Compliance inspection for this year. In compliance with the FMJS requirement 2.7, the report is to be sent to the BOCC as well as the FMJS Chairman James Aguiar. There were no serious or notable violations found during this inspections at the Main Jail, Work Release or County Road Prison."

from the report:

"An inspection was conducted of the Escambia County Correctional Facility’s Medical 
 Department on July 13, 2018 at 0900 hours, with the following inspectors:  Tonya Rainey, LPN Leon County Detention Facility...I am pleased to announce no Serious Violations or Notable Violations were found.The Medical Departments at all locations werefound to be neat, orderly and meeting the requirements of the Florida Model Jail Standard"

Thursday, July 12, 2018

How Could We?

Some people bang away at the keyboard on online sites and facebook pages like woody woodpecker talking about how they will be fiscally conservative.  I prefer the direct approach--actually proposing and supporting cuts :)

As I see this morning's article in the PNJ about Tuesday and Wednesday's budget meetings, I could not help but ask myself this rhetorical question:

How could we?  How could we glide through this year where there is enough in the kitty to get us by with very little pain knowing full well next year we start out a minimum of $5 Million short?

How could we not set aside some money from this year in anticipation of next year's fiscal cliff from which we will fall?

How could we not make deeper cuts to outside agencies? (the ones that are not mandated to be funded by the state, and the ones that have significant budgets already and who would survive without our funding).

How could we tell our employees that we will continue to fund all agencies at requested levels with only modest, meager trimmings here and there, while also telling these same employees we won't necessarily be able to provide raises next year and more than likely they will absorb increases in benefits costs next year?

How could we tell property owners the BCC may raise tax rates (I'll NEVER SUPPORT THIS) but we are still funding outside agencies?

Some people talk a lot about being fiscally like woody the woodpecker on a keyboard, at some public gatherings, etc.  talk talk talk.  Talk is cheap, actions speak louder than words, though.

It is for this reason that I took action and proposed cuts at the meetings this week.  There was very little appetite for this from my peers--and this is disappointing.

The good news is I'm not done proposing cuts, and when the time comes for the final vote on these budgets, I will propose more cuts.  We will see what happens at that time.  If we only tweak at the margins on the budget this year, shame on us because we can't act as if we don't see what's coming next year, we know better.  Arliss Howard's character Cowboy said it best when he state emphatically: "we can't refuse to accept the situation!"

He is right, we can't "refuse to accept the situation" for comfort's sake......How could we?

Answer:  I won't, but I'm just one vote on the board....and unless I die in the meantime, I'll be here next year whereas perhaps three that are involved in this year's budget might not be.  So no, I'm not going to take the easy route and eat the cake and cookies and throw the broccoli and eggplant in the trash till next year.  Nope.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

On 1370 WCOA Today...

I was a guest this morning on 1370 WCOA's "Good Morning Pensacola" radio show with Don Parker and Alex Gavin.

The primary topics of discussion were the budget and growth in the NW section of District 1.  I discussed my rationale for the creation of a NW District 1 Advisory Committee, and the makeup of this committee.  We also briefly discussed next week's joint meeting of the BCC and the SRIA and topics of discussion for that meeting.

We had a discussion about the property tax exemption which will go up next year and cost the county's general fund roughly $5 Million.  I explained my philosophy on the process and my reasoning for wanting to make cuts this year ahead of next year's shortfall.

You can listen to the interview here