County begins choosing projects
County commissioners will hold public meetings to get input from residents on what they feel are priorities in their districts.
All five of the county commissioners will be at each meeting, listening and taking notes. “This is a planning process. We are not even in year one of getting any funds. But this is a jumping off point,” County Commission Chair Rob Williamson explained.
Commissioner discussed for over an hour last week how to approach the division of sales tax and public input. Commissioner Sam Parker wants each commissioners’ district to receive an equal portion of the sales tax revenues.
“I am just throwing out there that 10 percent for each commission district would mean half the sales tax revenue would be divided equally, then the other half would be determined by needs countywide. That way even the smaller districts could see some of their tax money being used in their district.”
Some commissioners were not in favor of that, with Commissioner Bob Cole saying, “I would not favor each commission district receiving the same percentage. We should be working as a community here, and whatever is the biggest need for the county should be where this money goes.”
Midway Fire Chief Jonathan Kanzigg addressed the commissioners, explaining, “I am here representing the 275 firefighters and 28 fire stations in the county. When this sales tax campaign first was rolled out we were all very excited to see Fire support on the signs and flyers. There was also supposed to be $1.5 million for fire trucks, we were told, which would be about 3.2 percent of the LOST monies. Now the newest list of where money is supposed to go lists less than one percent for fire trucks. We cannot buy even one pumper truck for the $398,000 listed.”
Commissioner Parker asked if independent fire districts would receive more money than smaller districts through the funding.
Kanzigg said, “Sales tax is paid in all parts of the county, so we think all fire districts should get some money. Air packs cost the same whether a larger district buys one or a smaller district.”
Staff explained that smaller fire districts still have expenses like some who do not have radios, and larger districts may have larger expenses like pumper trucks.
Parker asked if it would be better to give each fire district the same percentage of money to use. It was suggested that fire chiefs be included in discussions of fire needs from LOST monies.
Commissioner Lane Lynchard of Gulf Breeze said he would like to see a system where the oversight committee that helped with the campaign have a role similar to the RESTORE committee, where they could help rank projects.
Commissioners were split on whether the oversight committee should have that large a role.
County staff and County Administrator Tony Gomillion had made a proposed list of projects for the first LOST money that was presented to commissioners. The project list was taken from already proposed projects needed in the general fund budget. One item on the list was approximately $800,000 for he countywide emergency communication system. Commissioners and fire chiefs agreed that every district in the county would benefit from that system, but more money was needed for sheriff and fire needs.
One project was also 48 percent of the infrastructure monies going to Holley-By-The-Sea drainage.
Commissioner Lynchard was not in favor of that being on the list.
“I think this is wrong, since most of the county will not even see this project and get no benefit. There are other sources of funding that we have been successful in obtaining for drainage projects. I don’t think we should use almost 50 percent of our LOST infrastructure money for one project like this.”
Gomillion said the list provided was just a starting point, and staff had expected commissioners to revise it and take things off and add other projects over the next few months.
Commissioner Parker and Commissioner Cole said they had told people that the LOST money would be used for new projects in the county — not projects already listed in the general budget. Commissioner Williamson and Commissioner Salter said they had understood the local option sales tax, if approved, would be used to help take the pressure off the general fund so the county would not need to raise ad valorem taxes for large expenses.
“I remember asking the sheriff how many new patrol cars were needed over the next five years and that is how we set the amount earmarked for safety and the sheriff department,” Williamson said.
Commissioners finally agreed to take the issue to the public to ask for input in what voters in each district believed to be their biggest need.
“Some people may feel that recreational needs and parks are the most important needs, for the kids. Others may say roads are their biggest concern,” explained Commissioner Lynchard. “But we need to see what they want before we finalize any list.”