This past Monday, January 11th, the Escambia Board of County Commissioners met at the Jean & Paul Amos Performance Studio at Pensacola State College for approximately four hours to decide if the funding process for RESTORE Act dollars needs to be changed. The consulting firm, Dewberry and the RESTORE Advisory Committee voiced their opinions on the potential for changes to the decision making process.
In the end, the County Commissioners reached consensus to divide the 124 projects competing for RESTORE funds into three categories – 1.) Economy, 2.) Environment, and 3.) Recreation, Conservation, and Tourism. The official final step in changing the process will take place at the next County Commission meeting on January 21st. The change in the evaluation and ranking process comes on the heels of the environmental projects overshadowing the economic development and tourism proposals in the rankings by the Dewberry Consulting firm and the Escambia County RESTORE Act Advisory Committee.
County Commissioners spoke on the importance of economic development projects providing much needed opportunities for jobs and positive impact on the local economy. Specifically, Steven Barry, and Doug Underhill voiced their feelings on the importance of economic development to resolve the issue of poverty that plagues the county. Commissioner Lumon May stated his respect for the advisory committee and their hard work, but stated that he, also, felt that economic development is strategically important in creating jobs in the minority and the overall community, when he spoke to the Pensacola Voice during the meeting. Commissioner Grover Robinson stated that he wanted to see the categories with equal percentages for Environment projects and Economic Development projects at 40%. However, a majority of the commissioners did not believe percentages should be applied to the categories, but agreed that the categorical analysis for funding was a good idea.
The chairman of the RESTORE Advisory Committee, Bentina Terry, admitted that by evaluating the projects in one overall pool, that it was inevitable that the environmental projects dominated the rankings. Commissioner Wilson Robertson chimed in that he wanted to see more economic development and tourism projects compete better in the evaluation process. The leveraging of RESTORE funds with other financial resources and other BP oil spill money to fund projects received considerable attention during the meeting. It will be the County Commissioners that will make the final decision on which projects receive RESTORE funds.