Pensacola City Council members this week spoke out against Mayor Ashton Hayward’s apparent intention—relayed via a public statement from Escambia County Commission Chairman Gene Valentino—to use a recently passed gas tax to further economic development efforts instead of contributing to mass transit funding.
“That would be in opposition to what this council has already approved,” Councilwoman Sherri Myers said during Monday’s Committee of the Whole meeting.
Last week, Valentino said that the city administration intended to put its share of the county-passed 4-cent gas tax toward Project Stallion, an economic development project at the Pensacola International Airport. The county commission passed the tax last fall with the stated intention of fully funding the Escambia County Area Transit system.
Commissioners anticipated that the city would dedicate the portion of the tax collected within the city limits—estimated to be between $700,000 and $800,000—to that effort as well. The issue was slated for a council agenda soon after the tax was approved by the commission, but was later removed.
County Administrator Bill Reynolds told council Monday that “no decisions have been made on anything” regarding the gas tax.
“Yes, we were looking at all kinds of options,” Reynolds said, adding that Valentino had misrepresented the city’s positions. “We kind of got painted into something that wasn’t totally accurate based on some comments that were made.”
Council members told Reynolds that they wished they were better “kept in the loop on these issues.” They also complained that the gas-tax intentions had been attributed to the council in media accounts.
“We’ve been accused of everything in the paper,” said Council President P.C. Wu. “I implore the press to keep in mind that the council has not taken any action.”
Mike Lowrey, president of ECAT’s employee union urged the council to put the gas tax towards mass transit. He sited an 11 percent increase in ridership last year.
“We hope that you’ll look at this and try to move forward on this issue,” Lowrey told the council.
Tomorrow, the mass transit union is holding “X Day,” during which a red X will be painted on a number of buses in an attempt to convey the funding impacts associated with losing the city’s portion of the gas tax. When ECAT employees addressed the issue during a county commission meeting last week, commissioners assured them that the transit system would be fully funded regardless of the city’s final decision on the gas tax.