Their first task is to hire a county administrator. The board voted to remove the interim administrator, George Touart, from consideration, but don’t count him out completely. The votes don’t appear to be in place to let him have another year at the helm. However, stranger things have happened.
The county also wants to hold a referendum this year, most likely during the August primaries, to extend the Local Option Sales Tax beyond 2017. The LOST funds pay for all the capital projects in the county and produce an estimated $30 million a year. Lately those funds have also been used for economic development. A steering committee of business and community leaders is being formed to lead the charge.
More functional consolidation may be on the horizon. The city relinquishing control of the West Florida Library System was an important step. The interlocal agreement let the city shave about $5 million from its budget and let the county use all of the new library assessments for the entire system. Other possible areas for future consolidation include garages, dispatch services and even fire protection.
The Escambia County Jail will be on the county’s plate for years to come. The commissioners have chosen to draw out the county’s negotiations with the Department of Justice, which will buy them some time. The mental health court, which was first proposed by Sheriff David Morgan in 2011, will start holding sessions soon. It will be interesting to see how it impacts the census in the jail. By the time the county’s budget workshops begin this summer, we will gain a true sense of the jail’s cost under county supervision.
There is the battle with the Emerald Coast Utility Authority over trash collection in the county. ECUA has been upset with the tipping fees at the Perdido Landfill, which is owned by the county, and wants to dump their collections elsewhere. The county has said with ECUA’s tipping fees the landfill can afford to remain operational. Commissioners are talking about abolishing ECUA and absorbing the utility into its operations, which would take approval from the Florida Legislature.
This upcoming year will be an important year for the county. If the commissioners can knock off just a few of these items, 2014 will be considered a successful one for them.