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Friday October 31st 2014

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Weekend Buzz: Touart praises Hayward, DOJ backs Sheriff, County makes IHMC expansion possible

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I thought last week was going to be quiet, my bad. Maybe–just maybe–this week we can step away from the melodrama of Pensacola politics.

In the days between Christmas and New Year’s Day, I will post my top five IN Cover stories, Outtakes, News stories and Florida Voices/Context Florida columns. On New Year’s Eve, I will post my list of the top five local politicians of 2013.

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Escambia County officials were happy to read this weekend the daily newspaper and see that the city of Pensacola has other options for luring an aerospace company to the area. They praised Hayward for creating a “win-win” alternative.

The News Journal published on Saturday the Mayor Ashton Hayward may not need any help from Escambia County to complete the incentive package to bring ST Aerospace and its 300 jobs to Pensacola. He has already cut the funds needed by 25 percent and he has options for the remaining portion needed to meet his financial commitments to the Malaysian company.

His administrator Colleen Castille told the daily newspaper that Gov. Rick Scott has pledged $2 million from Enterprise Florida’s Quick Action Closing Fund. For the balance needed, $6 million according to Memorandum of Understanding signed by the mayor, Hayward can either seek a larger appropriation from the Florida Legislature or issue public bonds.

The Independent News contacted on Saturday Interim County Administrator George Touart by phone. He praised Mayor Hayward’s new plan.

“This is fantastic news,” said Touart. “As the mayor has said ST Aerospace has always been a ‘city-lead project’ and this lets him keep control of it without borrowing money from the county.”

He complimented Hayward for creating a “win-win” solution.

“The city keeps its sanitation department,” said Touart. “For us, it’s a win because the commissioners can focus on their economic development projects and use the Local Option Sales Tax funds for infrastructure and public works projects to which they have already allocated the funds.”

Touart said the county had closed on land for a new industrial park on Friday–joint venture with chamber and Santa Rosa County.
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The initial feedback on the settlement agreement that the Department of Justice sent to Escambia County concerning the county jail is that Sheriff David Morgan wasn’t wrong when he predicted that it would cost the county millions to remedy to problems at the facility. The sheriff’s $10-$15 million price tag no longer seems an exaggeration.

Even if the county wanted to throw money at ST Aerospace, the county could have its hands full meeting the staffing and reporting requirements that DOJ expects. However, Touart is confident that the county can negotiate with DOJ and spread out the financial impact over four to five years.

He told the IN that his staff has already implemented many of the parts of the proposed settlement agreement.

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For those who have criticized county government for allegedly not helping to fund projects inside the Pensacola city limits, the Florida Institute for Human and Machine Cognition expansion, which was announced in Saturday’s newspaper, was possible because the Escambia County Commission loaned the organization $12 million.

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Now let’s hope city and county government can keep quiet this week and let us enjoy our holidays.