Pensacola, Florida
Saturday December 16th 2017

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The Buzz 3/23/17

No Balkanization State Rep. Frank White told Inweekly he doesn’t support Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward’s request that the Triumph funds be allocated to counties and cities in Northwest Florida.

“I’d rather have Triumph look at all the projects that are submitted, whether they’re by a city, or by a county, or by a nonprofit, whoever,” said White. “And look at the criteria we’ve laid out, and make the best decision regionally.”

He doesn’t believe chopping up the $300 million between cities and counties is best for the Panhandle.

“It’s kind of a balkanization of Triumph funds, where we’re all going to end up with fantastic boat ramps, and a water project here and there, but what do we really have to show for it in 10 or 20 years? Do we really have a diversified economy, more diversified economy, that’s prepared for the next environmental disaster? I don’t think so.”

He added, “I think Triumph needs the discretion to focus on regional projects that could actually make a difference in our lives.”

Missed BP Opportunity In August 2015, the City of Pensacola announced that it had reached an agreement with BP on its oil spill claim. The one-time windfall had the possibility of creating legacy projects if the Hayward administration leveraged the funds with state and federal grants. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

Of the total $5.35 million settlement, $2 million went to replenish the city’s Natural Disaster Fund that was depleted after the 2014 flood; $989,669 was split between the city’s attorneys; and $1.27 million was appropriated to help fund the Corrine Jones/Government Street stormwater project, whose budget had exceeded its grant after the Hayward administration expanded the size of the pond. The balance of $1,094,053.05 remained in the general fund for the mayor to spend as he wished.

Rather than leveraging the funds for possibly another “legacy” project, like Corrine Jones, the funds have been doled out to help pay for a series of small drainage projects around the city, totaling $781,492.15. A little more than $312,000 remains available.

Most recently, Mayor Hayward has been lobbying state lawmakers that the city should receive a share of the Triumph Gulf Coast funds–approximately $12.75 million.

City Administrator Eric Olson last week complained to the Pensacola City Council that the city had to go to the county for RESTORE funds.

“So, we missed out on leveraging opportunities,” said Olson. “We can’t pledge it as a match for another grant, so we would really like to have some guarantee that we’re getting some of that money.”

Last year, the City of Pensacola had at least a million dollars to pledge as a match for grants and didn’t do it. Maybe the mayor can leverage the remaining balance.

Reining in Lobbyists Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran last week spoke to the Panhandle Tiger Bay Club. Inweekly had him a few minutes before the luncheon and asked the Speaker if he has successfully reined in the powerful lobbyists.

“For sure,” said Corcoran. “You’re seeing that the proof is in the pudding—the number of lobbyists who have registered, the number of bills that they’ve disclosed they’re working on, the number of filings and transparency in the budgeting process.”

He said when the Senate and House agreed on joint rules it made a huge difference.

“The joint rule with the Senate gives us the most transformative and accountable joint rules of any state in the Union, which basically say you can never, ever, ever stuff something in the budget at the 12th hour written on the back of a napkin,” he said. “Those days are over, and we’re the first state to do that.”

Youth Arrests According to the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, arrests of youth in the state of Florida have dropped 28 percent over the past four years. In Escambia County, youth arrests have fallen only 17 percent since FY 2011-12.

Of the zip codes with the highest volume of youth arrests, Escambia’s 32505 is tied with Pinellas County’s 33712 for 13th with 430 arrests in 2015-16. The 32505 zip code accounted for nearly one of every four youth arrests in Escambia County last year.

Statewide, the arrests of white youth have dropped 38 percent over the past four years, while the arrests of black youth dropped 20 percent.

In Escambia County, the arrests of white youth trailed the state decline by only four percentage points with a 34-percent decrease. However, Escambia County didn’t fare as well with its black youth, who made up 72-percent of all youth arrests in the county last year. In Escambia County, the arrests of black youth only dropped 9 percent over the same four-year period.

Lower Beach Passes At its March 16 meeting, the Escambia Board of County Commissioners approved a reduction in the Pensacola Beach General Public Annual Pass, reducing the annual fee from $50 to $20. The cost reduction will become effective Monday, May 1.

The board’s action does not impact the ability to choose to pay the cash toll of $1 for single trips or the other Pensacola Beach Annual Pass rates. The homestead pass will remain at $5 and the commercial pass, $70. No refunds will be given for any general public annual passes purchased before the new fee rate.

The new Pensacola Beach Annual Pass integrated with SunPass® provides a true 365-day pass to Pensacola Beach by providing an unlimited passage through the Bob Sikes Toll Booth for one full year from the date of purchase.

The public can either purchase a SunPass transponder online at SunPass.com or in person at retail outlets including Publix, CVS Pharmacy and Walgreens or enroll in the Pensacola Beach Annual Pass program online or in person at the Bob Sikes Bridge Toll Plaza Customer Service Office located in the Santa Rosa Island Authority office, 1 Via De Luna Drive, Pensacola Beach.

For information about the new SunPass System and the integration with the Pensacola Beach Annual Pass Program, please visit myescambia.com/PensacolaBeachPass or contact the Bob Sikes Bridge Toll Plaza Customer Service Office at bobsikestollplaza@myescambia.com.

Call to Action On Thursday, March 23, Earth Action is hosting a meeting that addresses the Environmental Legacy of our Northwest communities. A series of speakers will discuss what’s happening in our community and show how the public can become actively engaged in helping with environmental issues

“It is vitally important for residents of northwest Florida to realize four things,” said community activist James Scaminaci III. “First, the grand jury reports of 1999 and 2004 emphasized that ultimately the first line of defense against environmental pollution were mobilized citizens acting in self-defense.”

He continued, “Second, they were aided by federal and state agencies that had not yet been co-opted or coerced by industry into promoting industry’s ‘junk science.’ Third, they were assisted by local journalists and editors who understood these issues and were willing to take a stand. And fourth, an activated citizenry is still our first line of defense, but unfortunately, there has been a serious erosion and undermining of the other two pillars.”

With Scott Pruitt named to the EPA and Matt Gaetz wanting to abolish the EPA, Earth Action said in its press announcement, “It’s time we come to together and take a stand for the environment and our public health.”

The group is concerned about the impact on poorer neighborhoods.

“The people who are impacted the most by environmental racism must be at the table,” said Dr. Gloria Horning, Director of Justice Escambia, “and direct action needs to be louder and louder every day.”

The meeting will be in Meeting Room B of the Downtown Pensacola Library located at 239 N Spring Street, beginning at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 23.

No BRAC Worries A Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) process is coming. Escambia County Commission Chairman Doug Underhill isn’t worried after meeting with the Florida Defense Alliance.

“We’re not even talking about BRAC,” said the commissioner on “Pensacola Speaks” last week. “And the reason why is because when you have the kind of partnership we have in this community, you don’t have to worry about stuff being taken away from you. You’re thinking more about no matter what the new mission is in America today, Escambia County’s the best place to do that mission.”

He explained why.

“If you’ve got that superior, sustained relationship that we have developed, then you don’t have to be afraid of something like BRAC. You just keep doing the great work you’re doing, and you’ll do fine in a BRAC situation or outside of a BRAC situation. Our focus is completely on how do we continue to grow and bring mission space to Escambia County.”

SCI Metro Dashboard The Studer Community Institute released its 2017 Pensacola Metro Dashboard to give the public an objective picture of what is going well in the community and where opportunities for improvement exist.

“I think when you look at dashboards, if you’re on a plane they seem to be awfully important. If you’re in a hospital, they use a dashboard. If you’re driving a car, it tells you when things are going well and they’re not going well, ” Studer told Inweekly. “Most good businesses, in fact, I’d say every single good business that I’ve ever seen, has a dashboard”

He continued, “The dashboard is what are your targets to beat, maximize whatever is happening in your business or your facility. You know, when is it normal, when is it doing really, really well, and when should you have warning signs.”

Studer believes good communities need a dashboard. The Pensacola Metro Dashboard compliments the Quality of Life survey that he and his wife Rishy have sponsored for nine years.

One indicator that jumped out this year was the crime rate. Escambia County’s crime rate is 4,734 per 100,000 population, while the state rate is 3,300 per 100,000. Neighboring Santa Rosa County only has a 1,292 per 100,000 crime rate. Escambia County’s crime rate is the second worst crime rate for counties near our population in the state of Florida, according to Studer.

“From what I hear from the police and the sheriff is that we’re making progress, and I assume we are,” said Studer. “They all work hard. There’s nothing to say they don’t work. It’s not just a police and sheriff issue; it’s all of us looking at safety and neighborhood watches, and watching where our children are, helping people get jobs.”

Other indicators that need improvement are Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten Participation, 63.3 percent in Escambia, but 78-percent statewide, and real per capita income, $36,632 average in Escambia and $42,737 statewide.

“If a kid is not ready for kindergarten, they likely will not graduate from high school,” said Studer. “High school graduation impacts the ability to earn more. I’ve talked about it for a long time, we’ve just got to keep moving wages up here in Pensacola.”