Pensacola, Florida
Saturday December 16th 2017

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The Buzz 4/30/15

Covering the VT-MAE Gap The public has been repeatedly reassured by the city of Pensacola that VT-MAE and its promised 300 jobs are not in jeopardy and the project is on schedule. However, we don’t know yet how the project will be funded.

What is unknown is how the city of Pensacola will cover $3.5 million deficit for a runaway extension and apron for the proposed hangar for VT-MAE. At the end of March, Ricksblog.biz reported that the FAA had turned down a request for $3.5 million grant and that the city had known the grant was not likely as early as a week after the contract celebration, according to emails received via a public record request.

In March, Interim Airport Director Dan Flynn told Inweekly that FDOT had indicated a multi-year approach to providing the funding—a portion of it this year through a State Joint Participation Agreement (grant), and the remainder over the next one to two years with supplemental Joint Participation Agreements.

Three weeks later, the daily newsletter also reported the FAA had rejected the grant application. Mayor Ashton Hayward chose to use his “Upwards” newsletter to respond.

The mayor wrote, “The Florida Department of Transportation has been a partner on the VT MAE project from the beginning, and over the last few months, we’ve worked with FDOT to reprioritize projects in our five-year work program in order to fill the gap in funding.”

He added, “These issues haven’t jeopardized the project; in fact, work has continued uninterrupted. Selection processes are underway for both a construction manager at risk and architectural/engineering services, and construction is expected to begin on the facility later this year.”

Great, the funding issue is settled, not quite as Flynn reported in March, but at least, the $3.5 million shortfall is covered…or is it?

According to FDOT officials, the agency hasn’t finalized a plan for any funding adjustments. When FDOT does come up with a plan, it’s likely the local Transportation Planning Organization (TPO) will have to approve the shifting of transportation priorities and funds.

Mary Robinson of the West Florida Regional Planning Council explained that FDOT develops its five-year work plan based on input from the TPO and its Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP). The two plans must be consistent, according to Robinson.

“The department has told us as soon as they work it out we will be notified,” Robinson said. “We will most likely ask the TPO to amend the TIP.”

The next TPO meeting is in June. Maybe we will get another “Upwards” before then that will fully explain the funding plan.

FAC vs. DJJ Both the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice and 27 counties, including Escambia County, challenging the agency are claiming victory over a judge’s ruling in a long-running dispute about the costs of detaining juvenile offenders.

Administrative Law Judge W. David Watkins found that some parts of a rule proposed by the department last year “constitute an invalid exercise of legislatively delegated authority.” The proposed rule deals with how costs should be split between the state and counties.

“It (Watkins’ ruling) emphasizes the need for legislative action,” said Cragin Mosteller, a spokeswoman for the Florida Association of Counties (FAC). “Once again a judge has ruled that DJJ has not done rule making right. In a decade, they have not been able to correctly interpret the statute.”

However, department officials said Watkins’ most important finding was in their favor. That issue involves situations in which juvenile offenders commit probation violations.

“This is because the statute simply does not address the situation where a youth commits multiple substantive law violations over time and thus has the status of both post-disposition (commitment or probation) and predisposition (detained and awaiting final court disposition on a new charge),” Judge Watkins wrote. “The department’s interpretation that detention arising from a new law violation by a youth on probation is the responsibility of the counties is certainly one reasonable interpretation … is not clearly erroneous, and is entitled to deference.”

Inweekly has been following this battle closely. Escambia County Commissioner Grover Robinson, who is also FAC president, has been working for resolution with the Florida Legislature. At stake is $140 million for past overpayments made by Florida counties.
Watkins in 2012 ruled against the state in a rule fight, and the 1st District Court of Appeal upheld his decision. Last year, lawmakers considered a bill that would have created a 50-50 split, but that bill died when counties insisted on the past overpayments.

FAC believes the latest ruling by Judge Watkins strengthens the counties’ case for “a fair 50-50 split with a repayment.”

“I hope this ruling will make it apparent to the Legislature that DJJ cannot interpret the statute correctly, and that we need new legislation, that DJJ has consistently through the years been haphazard in their rule making,” Mosteller said. “We need to move forward with a new law that gets us out of this bureaucratic mess and puts us in a position that we can better take care of the taxpayer dollars as well as the youths that need our help.”

The News Service of Florida reported that the fate of this year’s legislation to resolve the dispute remains unclear. The House bill was approved by the Appropriations Committee in late March but has not been heard by the full House. A Senate bill (SB 1414) was approved by a subcommittee this month but has not moved further. Senate sponsor Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, has said the counties’ requests for repayments were “likely a bridge too far.”