Commissioners Consider Cap Increase

The Escambia County Commission today will consider increasing its caps on electric and natural gas franchise fees. If this morning’s work session was any indication, the commission may not have the appetite.

“I made it clear I’ve never supported any increase all along,” Commission Chairman Wilson Robertson told the board.

The commission was presented this morning with a proposed ordinance establishing a 50 percent increase on franchise-fee caps. Commissioner Gene Valentino said the generated funds—expected to be between $2.5 and $3 million—were needed as a permanent source of funding for economic development efforts.

Valentino relayed his recent trip to Germany, during which industry representatives stressed the importance of local governments focusing on economic development. He told the commission the county needed to look at the cap increase as necessary insofar as providing a reliable source of funds for such efforts.

“It’s a paradigm shift,” he said. “It’s a change of thinking of how we want to grow the community.”

Robertson said he had heard from several entities—such as the Escambia County School District and International Paper—that were opposed to the increase. Commissioner Grover Robinson suggested that the board set the cap increase at 25 percent and exempt the school district and industrial customers; he said the impact of such an increase would amount to about $30 annually for customers with bills under $250.

Commissioner Kevin White suggested that the board exempt the Escambia County Utilities Authority, as he thought they would pass along the cost to customers. He also wondered if the county imposed the increase on itself.

“It’s pretty stupid to tax your own self,” White said.

Commissioner Marie Young wondered about the impact of an increase on customers. She projected the scenario into the winter, when electric and gas usage is normally up due to heating needs.

“If it gets cold, we’re in trouble,” Young said.

“It gets cold anyway if you don’t have a job,” Valentino replied, stressing the economic development aspect on the increase.

The county commission will conduct a public hearing on the cap increase ordinance today at 5:30 p.m.