The Board of County Commissioners can’t seem to buy a break with specific sources of revenue, such as RESTORE and Triumph Gulf Coast dollars.
At this point they are just fatigued with the application process.
This time around the issue is RESTORE funding out of the county’s direct allocation and the inability to have those funds distributed in a timely fashion to complete the purchase of the new building for the Gulf County Sheriff’s Office.
The office completed its move to the new space last summer.
“A year ago you approved moving forward on this,” County Administrator Michael Hammond told commissioners during a special meeting last week.
“The sheriff moved in in August. It is nine years after the dang oil spill.”
Nonetheless, an email from the U.S. Treasury, which is charged with disbursing the oil spill dollars, indicated it would not be issuing a check until at least March and possibly April.
While the county has waited on the RESTORE portion of the $1.1 million sale, the seller, which agreed to a lease agreement pending a final sale, has extended the closing date for a sale three times and was not willing to do so again, Hammond said.
As a result, commissioners were forced to approve going out for $550,000 in short-term financing pending the arrival of the RESTORE dollars.
“It is disheartening the federal government is making this so difficult,” Hammond said.
However, it is not the first time RESTORE funds have failed to arrive on the county’s timeline.
Some $2.8 million, representing the county’s first-year allocation under RESTORE, delayed a beach restoration project for months; to such an extent that Hurricane Michael intervened.
Meanwhile, county commissioners voted unanimously to continue on the current track regarding seeking Triumph Gulf Coast funds.
The board of Triumph recently approved a $15 million fund to be disbursed in four counties, including Gulf, to offset projected losses in revenue from property and sales taxes.
“There is more need than there is that fund,” Hammond said, an opinion shared by one speaker during the Triumph meeting who argued the fund should be $100 million.
While the final details of how the fund will be accessed are to be worked out, all indications pointed to a form of bridge loan program.
Hammond noted that Bay and Gulf counties would see the most substantial impacts.
The BOCC, joined by the city of Port St. Joe and Gulf District Schools, has submitted a pre-application, which was approved advancing it to a full application, for some $21 million in grant funding to offset tax losses.
The goal is to “maintain current revenue” and grant dollars would represent the shortfalls in each budget.
The application expressed that commissioners were not interested in any loans.
The county was earmarked at least $15 million in the legislation establishing Triumph guidelines and they seek only grant funds.
Hammond said hoping for that property tax offset from the state coffers was not likely to result in assistance.
“I can’t find one time the state has made up ad valorem taxes after prior hurricanes,” Hammond said. “We can’t wait for pie-in-the-sky, for something the state has never done before.
“This (Triumph) is the best bet for tax relief for the citizens of Gulf County.”
But, Hammond also expressed concern about any strings to a Triumph grant award, noting the project proposal to build a floating dry dock in the shipping channel.
That was approved by the Triumph board for $13 million, but the clawbacks linked to job creation in the term sheet were indigestible.
“The clawbacks we couldn’t live with,” Hammond said. “They have clawbacks for some, not for others, job requirements for some, not for others.
“It is for anything the board wants to vote for.”
The county finally received written approval to extend the deadline for placing storm debris on the roadside to March 15.
All storm debris must be road-side by that date.
“I don’t anticipate any more extensions,” Hammond said.
The goal, Hammond said after talking to state emergency management officials, is to have all debris picked up by April 15 and lay down yards being used for debris emptied by May 15.
Approval for work on private roads has already come down from the BOCC and the right of entry program for private property is in the works.