Sunday, August 2, 2015

BOCC and the $23 Million Oil Spill $: The Twilight Zone

The BP Oil Spill money issue was discussed at last Thursday's Budget Workshop and I just have to post how that discussion went. I felt like I was in the Twilight Zone. Is there something in the air down in County Center that keeps our county commissioners from logically thinking where this one-time windfall should be spent? How about where it's needed the most? Like on our roads???

It's the Twilight Zone at the BOCC Budget Workshop
It appears the county will net almost $23 million (after lawyer's fees) from the BP Oil Spill settlement. Lo and Behold the commissioners have their sights on another pot of money separate from this settlement. The Restore Act, a national settlement, is still in litigation but the county has high "hopes" to get some of that pot too.

County Administrator Mike Merrill noted that there are no restrictions on the use of the BP Oil Spill monies but that the basis the county submitted a claim for was loss of tourism and loss of economic development....

Immediately, Commissioner Hagan chimes in and states there are a number of investment options for this money from ELAPP, transportation, EPC, Ferry and his favorite those nebulous economic development projects. According to Hagan, there's NO urgency to spend these dollars now and the prudent and fiscal approach is to kick spending any of these dollars down the road. Maybe there wasn't enough time to contact his favorite PR person and take a poll.....

Hagan proceeded to make the motion to hold off spending the BP Oil Spill monies until next budget cycle. Victor immediately seconded.

The surreal conversation then went as follows:
Commissioner Beckner decided that we need a "philosophy" for how to"strategically" invest this one-time windfall. This is a one time $23 million windfall (not a $230 million windfall) and we need a philosophy for how to spend it. That is comical.

Beckner's philosophical suggestions starts with his first priority to give money to the EPC for "capital tools"  - he did not provide any specifics but it's his priority. Next Beckner suggested the county use the money to educate the public about our lands. He would like to hand over our tax dollars to partners like Busch Gardens and Lowry Park Zoo to help do just that - again laughable. Last, Beckner wants our BP Oil Spill monies used for a safer community for pedestrians and cyclists. He ends his comments  again by implying his suggestions are a "more strategic approach". That is a joke.

Commissioner White and Commissioner Miller had already made proposals to give most of the money, $15 million to ELAPP for both acquiring more environmentally sensitive county lands and maintaining those lands. The remaining $9 million would go to green way trails and kayaking blue ways, beach restoration, boat ramps, ecotourism and native plants in our parks.

ELAPP has a dedicated property tax and the county is strained today to maintain the property they already own under ELAPP. Does it make sense to buy more land when the county can't maintain what they already have? The BP Oil Spill had nothing to do with what White and Miller proposed using the windfall settlement for. It would be ridiculous to spend this one-time windfall on these lower priority activities when the county has much greater needs elsewhere.

White saw the writing on the wall that his proposal was going nowhere. Therefore, he wanted to amend Hagan's motion to put the funds into a separate budget line item that cannot be spent until a specific appropriation was approved by the commissioners.

Miller then defiantly states that these dollars should not be used for transportation, that the county should look for "other" dollars (more from your wallet) for transportation.

Crist, normally not shy to speak up, meekly commented that the commissioners need to "work together" to gain consensus and indicated the windfall should be spent covering the county's economic losses resulting from the spill.

Last were comments from Commissioner Chairwoman Sandy Murman who stated that transportation and economic development were linked and transportation was a priority. Murman even called out a couple of us who were sitting in the audience. 

Murman (and the rest of the commissioners) know a number of us have been calling out for a long time to re-prioritize our budget and start funding our roads and transportation within our existing budget.

Again, that request fell on deaf ears.

The motion had been made and seconded to kick spending the BP Oil Spill windfall down the road to next year's budget. Of course, the Wizard had already orchestrated behind the green curtain to kick this can down the road. The "kumbaya" crowd simply cannot air much dissension in public.

Commissioners proceeded to unanimously pass the motion to kick spending the one-time windfall until next budget cycle 7-0. 

Want to take bets for how this money will be spent? Want to bet that Merrill aka the Wizard of Oz, will build consensus for how to spend this $23 million one-time windfall, all behind the curtain and outside of Sunshine? 

Want to take bets on what the consensus will be? 

Want to bet the consensus will be that the Wizard orchestrates sprinkling these dollars around the county on low priority projects?

Hillsborough gets a one-time $23 Million windfall.

Our local roads are literally crumbling, especially after all this rain.

The county commissioners tell us there is no "urgency" to spend it.

But they want another 30 year $3.5 Billion sales tax hike.

We are in the Twilight Zone.

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