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Friday October 24th 2014

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Commission Aims for Library & Gas Taxes

Continuing the currently unfolding discussion regarding funding for the West Florida Public Library system, the Escambia County Commission agreed this morning to move forward with activating a dedicated library tax and taking over management of the system.

“We’re biting off a big one here, but we can do it, we can do it if we just work together,” said Commission Vice Chairman Gene Valentino.

Under the current interlocal agreement, the county and the city of Pensacola fund the library system, with the city assuming the managerial role. This has created recent funding disagreements, and resulted currently in reduced hours at library branches.

Officials from both the city and county have recently expressed interest in collecting a MSTU—a dedicated tax—for the purpose of funding the library system. They are also looking to dissolve the current interlocal and pass management on to the county, with the library board of trustees also taking on a larger role.

“This is another example of functional consolidation,” Valentino said, describing the move as a “game-changer” and “real team-spirited approach.”

Though it wasn’t on their Committee of the Whole agenda today, commissioners also tackled another funding problem: mass transit.

Commissioners have long bemoaned the cost of funding the Escambia County Area Transit system. Chairman Wilson Robertson has repeatedly linked the recent decision to pullback on the county’s funding contribution to the library system with the the city’s past decision to discontinue its funding contribution to the transit system.

Outgoing Commissioner Marie Young today motioned for the county to levy a gas tax in order to fund the transit system. It’s a move that has been discussed by the commission before.

“$3.2 million? That’s about three and a half cents a gallon, right?” Valentino asked.
“That’s correct,” said county budget guru Amy LaVoy, “but I don’t believe you can levy a half-cent.”

Young clarified the tax at 4 cents—“let’s get it right”—and Valentino seconded the motion. He called Young’s motion “bold” and “proper.”

“Good, that’s my legacy,” Young said, “now let’s vote on it.”

With a unanimous vote, the commission had the four votes required for such a move. Commissioner Kevin White was absent.

Because this morning was a COW meeting, the board must formally take up the gas tax during a regular, or specially called, and properly advertised meeting. Wanting to avoid the possibility of losing the necessary four votes once two new commissioners are seated later this month, the board decided to slate the issue for Nov. 19—which county attorney Alison Rogers said would be possible if the Pensacola News Journal would allow them a “super, secret exception” from its normal advertising deadlines.

The commission scheduled a vote with its current line up, but Young noted that she thought the vote would hold regardless.

“We only need one to say ‘yes,’ and that’s the one that’s sitting in this chair and I’m sure he’ll vote ‘yes,’” she said, referring to incoming commissioner Lumon May.