Commission Rejects Increased Caps, Wants City to Figure RESTORE Out

Escambia County Commissioner Kevin White made it clear last night that he did not support increasing electric and natural gas franchise fee caps.

“The whole thing stinks and I’m not going to support it,” he told his fellow commissioners. “There’s nothing Gene can do and there’s nothing Grover can do, so Marie, you get to be the swing tonight.”

Commission Chairman Wilson Robertson had already voiced his opposition to the increase. In the end, Commissioner Marie Young swung the vote 3-2.

The commission considered during its meeting yesterday whether or not to increase electric and natural gas franchise fees by 25 percent. The Escambia County School District and industrial customers would have been excluded from the increase.

Commissioner Gene Valentino reaffirmed his support for the increase last night, arguing that the revenue was needed to put toward economic development. Lewis Bear, owner of the Lewis Bear Co., also spoke in favor of the increase.

“It’s really a vote for the future of Escambia County and it’s a vote for jobs,” Bear told the commission.

One citizen spoke against the increase, as did a representative from Gulf Power. Commissioner White said the Pensacola Bay Area Chamber of Commerce served as the county’s economic development arm and noted the group’s absence.

“Where’s the Chamber here to support this? He’s not here,” he said, adding that Gulf Power was a considerable member of the chamber.

Also during its meeting yesterday, the commission continued shaping the criteria for its RESTORE Act advisory committee. The board again discussed the city of Pensacola’s representation on the committee, and decided to not specify whether the mayor or city council would make its respective appointment.

“Is that the consensus of the board, to just say the ‘city,’ because this morning you said the ‘mayor,?’” asked County Administrator Randy Oliver.

The board decided that it was best not to specify— “I want to stay out of city politics,” said Commissioner Grover Robinson—and to let city officials rely on the city charter when determining how to appoint someone to the RESTORE committee.

“It’s for their legal team to determine who has the authority, not our’s,” said Valentino.