Pensacola, Florida
Saturday December 16th 2017

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The Buzz 3/5/15

Ingram on Gaming On Feb. 23, News Talk 1370 WCOA brought back the iconic afternoon call-in show Pensacola Speaks with Inweekly publisher Rick Outzen. The topic of casino gambling coming to Escambia County was discussed several times.

State Rep. Clay Ingram was asked what he thought about the Poarch Creek Indians wanting to open a bingo-style slot machine casino in Escambia County.

“I’ll start off and say this. I’ve always politically been opposed to, and still am opposed to the proliferation or expansion of gaming in the state of Florida,” Ingram said. “Looking at the whole situation, from a pragmatic point of view, it’s disingenuous for the state to say that we’re not a gaming state, when the state—through the lottery and obviously the parimutuels—is involved in gaming of some sort in a big way.”

He said the key is the agreement Gov. Rick Scott works out with the Seminole Tribe, which pays the state $100 million a year to operate six casinos in Florida.

“Again, this is a crystal ball scenario, but the governor is obligated to deal with the Seminole Tribe,” he said. “It’s up in the air right now as to whether or not he strikes a new compact. Then, that would come to the legislature for approval.”

Rep. Ingram added, “Depending on what happens with the Seminole Tribe and the governor, if they enter into a new compact. I think anything to do with the Poarch Creek Tribe here would be dependent on, first of all, the governor striking that compact.”

Meanwhile, the Escambia Board of County Commissioners is left on the sidelines. Commissioner Lumon May told the WCOA listeners, “The casinos are a state issue and is completely in the hands of the governor and state legislature. All we can do is wait for their decision.”

DJJ Resolution Sought Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson sat down with Inweekly to discuss the efforts of the Florida Association of Counties (FAC) to reach some resolution on how the state bills the counties for juvenile justices costs. Robinson is the FAC president.

According to FAC, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) owes Florida county governments about $170 million from overcharging them for the costs. Escambia County is owed $6.6 million, Santa Rosa County $962,000.

In 2004, the Florida Legislature mandated that counties share in the costs for juvenile secure detention. In the beginning, the breakdown was relatively simple: counties paid for secure detention days prior to a juvenile’s final court disposition and the state paid for days after their case was resolved. Since 2008, DJJ has tinkered with the cost-share ratios, placing more burden on the counties.

In June 2013, the First District Court of Appeal invalidated DJJ’s rules and held that, for years, DJJ improperly shifted financial responsibility for detention days to the counties. However, they refused to reimburse the counties of the overcharges.

“We need to resolve how to split the costs going forward, what to pay back to the counties, and how long it will take DJJ to pay it back,” Robinson said.

“I think it’s wrong for the state to take ad valorem dollars from Escambia County taxpayers and give them to the state,” he said. “FAC wants to end the billing disputes so the state and counties can better focus on prevention, treatment and rehabilitation programs.”

He said the courts had found the DJJ rules to be “internally inconsistent and not supported by facts or logic.” FAC supports allowing counties to pay actual costs on a monthly reimbursement basis. Currently the state pre-bills for the year.

Robinson said, “And they don’t send back any money, if the actual costs are less.”

Diplomacy’s Impact Six members of the Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council recently returned from Washington, D.C., where they attended a meeting sponsored by the U.S. Department of State focusing on citizen diplomacy.

Executive Director Jena Melancon co-chaired the event that had over 800 attendees.

She said, “One distinct takeaway from this four-day event was that exchanges not only build bridges between cultures and have an impact on U.S. foreign policy, but that they also have an impact on local economies.”

According to its research, the Gulf Coast Citizen Diplomacy Council and its professional exchanges contributed $429,208 to the local economy in 2014. Very impressive for an office that only has two full-time employees.

Melancon said, “We put heads in beds, take visitors to local restaurants, stores and cultural events. We book transportation and make sure that their experience is a positive one. People leave with good memories, professional connections and a better understanding of the United States. We know our members and volunteers are making an intangible impact on the visitors and that the visitors, in turn, are making an impression on the locals they meet. These numbers show us that we’re making a tangible impact in the local economy as well.”