Underhill does not see City getting more gas tax [podcast]

Commissioner Doug Underhill said yesterday on “Pensacola Speaks” that he does not see the county continuing to give the City of Pensacola greater than its share of the Local Option Gas Tax.

“Obviously, we’re going to give them their share,” he said. “ It would be inappropriate not to. Working under the past interlocal agreement, the city gets a much larger share than the state model would allocate to them.”

Underhill continued, “It’s nothing really against the city. Obviously they’ve got plenty of roads that need work, but, if you haven’t been out into the hinterlands of the county, then you probably should really recognize how important it is that we spend our LOGT money on those county roads elsewhere in the county.”

The commissioner pointed out that part of his district, District 2, is inside the city limits.

“While I completely respect the need that those city residents are also county residents, there are areas in Warrington, Mayfair, and Brownsville that quite frankly need the attention,” he said. “I’d be remiss in my duties not to make sure that those resources go where they’re most needed.”

According to Florida law, the gas tax revenue allocations are to be based on the road expenditures as reported in the Comprehensive Annual Financial Reports (CAFR) of the past five years. Last summer, county staff calculated that the allocation percentage for the city should be 5.45 percent – 70 percent reduction from the old 18.22 percent. The city gas tax revenues would drop from $1.55 million to $463,600 — about $11 million loss over the life of the local gas tax.

Mayor Hayward wants the Board of County Commissioners to allocation the city 15.62 percent of the LOGT. He has asked the city council to approve bonds for that amount.

Underhill wasn’t sure what the mayor was thinking by trying to bond revenue he might not get from the county. He said the allocation formula is simple.

“When the state established the law that made the LOGT available, it set a formula in place for how you divvy up the money,” he said.

“You don’t have to sit down behind closed doors with cigars to figure it out. You just do your job. You just do what the state law says, and that is to apply the state’s model using the CAFR … Those organizations, the more you spend on transportation, the more of the tax money you get. I think that’s a great law because it incentivizes a desired behavior, which is to spend money on those core issues of infrastructure.”

The commissioner said that he and all his fellow commissioners have road repairs needs that have been ignored too long.

“You can drive just about any neighborhood in my district and find somewhere where the visible signs of deferred maintenance are just right their in your face,” said Underhill. “Really, those are our biggest priorities. If we can’t get that right, if we can’t get public safety, sidewalks, driveways, and street lights right, then, as elected officials, we really don’t have much of a leg to stand on in front of our constituents.”

He warned of the “tyranny of the immediate.”

“You may come into work thinking you know you’ve got great plans of what you’re going to accomplish, and then the immediate crisis steals your initiative,” said Underhill.

“In a leadership role, you cannot allow that to happen. You have to answer those immediate needs, but what ends up happening is you become the sum total of all of these crises.”

He said the Board of County Commissioners has to look beyond the immediate crises and plan the way forward for the county.

“If we are mired down in the tyranny of the immediate, and if we spend all of your money on these crises, whatever crisis comes to us next, then there’s never going to be money available and there’s never going to planning energy available to actually solve the longer-term problems.”