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Wednesday July 23rd 2014

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Valentino on Pensacola, Gas Tax, Project Stallion

Escambia County Commission Chairman Gene Valentino spoke out this morning about the city of Pensacola’s apparent intentions to use their portion of a recently passed gas-tax to further an economic development project at the airport.

“It was well understood that the gas tax became the earmarked funding source for mass transit,” Valentino said.

Recently, the county passed a four-cent gas tax to fully fund the Escambia County Area Transit mass transit system. The city was asked to allow its portion of the tax—estimated to be between $700,000 to $800,000—to also go toward ECAT, but Pensacola officials have now informed the county that they intend to use the tax revenues fund bonding commitments associated with ‘Project Stallion,’ an aerospace industry-related economic development project planned for the Pensacola International Airport.

Valentino called the city’s designs a “last minute move the administration recently made us aware of.” Commissioner Wilson Robertson said it might be illegal to use the gas-tax revenue for aviation related ventures.

Commissioner Grover Robinson recalled the basic arrangement when the city ceased contributing to ECAT. Officials at the time apparently assured that Pensacola would support a tax to fund mass transit.

“That was part of the deal,” Robinson said, “When they handed it over to us,they said ‘y’all can pass the gas tax.’”

here is a copy of Valentino’s statement:

Over the past six months, the City of Pensacola has taken the lead on a project the County supports called “Project Stallion”…  This project involves over 500 jobs in the Aerospace industry and has the potential to mushroom with opportunities for job seekers … just like Navy Federal Credit Union did.

In November and December of last year the County Commission addressed a lingering issue with  ECAT and the growing costs associated with this county’s mass transit system.  We agreed to shift the cost burden of mass transit off the backs of the property tax payers and to impose a gas tax to maintain the same level of funding and the same level of service which ECAT provides, as our outside contract manager.

It was well understood that the Gas Tax became the earmarked funding source for mass transit.   Up to this change the county has born 100 % of the mass transit cost even though the City of Pensacola stopped contributing their share under an Interlocal Agreement, putting the total of $3.9-million on the backs of the county, even though 64 % of the road stop miles are in the City.

We in the County remain committed to Project Stallion and are ready to step-up to make this project a success.  HOWEVER, the City is asking us to use the tax revenue from the City’s portion of the gas tax to fund their portion of the bond incentives to pay the debt service on the bonds, meaning they are redirecting this portion of the gas tax revenue away from the intended mass transit purpose and expecting the County to pick up this difference.  This approach is not balanced or fair, and is a last minute move the Administrator made us aware of.   Recently, the County Commission passed the gas tax with a 5-0 vote, establishing the gas tax as a permanent funding source for mass transit.   The City’s portion to this commitment would be between $700,000 and $800,000 per year which  is tied to gas sales in the City limits.

We are requesting that the City go back to the drawing Board to find another way to finance their portion of the Bond Issue.  Again, the County remains 100% committed to Project Stallion and we are very excited to bring 500 + to the area.

The County was expecting the City to agree to reduce the mill rate with this gas tax pledged to mass transit.  At the Committee of the Whole meeting on Feb. 14th, the BCC will discuss and decide how we collectively will agree to fund Project Stallion, but it’s only fair that the City find a way to do what they financially committed to, WITHOUT taking from the gas tax revenue dedicated completely to mass transit.

Therefore, Mr. Touart, as Administrator, you have informed me that you have spoken with other commissioners.  So we would like to ask, if the other commissioners agree,  to have you go back to the City to have them find such an agreeable funding solution by the 14th of February…. Committee of the Whole County Commission meeting.