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County looks to Triumph for pledged funds

Tim Croft
tcroft@starfl.com

Peel back today’s meeting of the board of Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc., to find several layers that could impact Gulf County.

Triumph staff is recommending the board move to term sheet negotiations on a grant award that would establish at the Gulf/Franklin campus of Gulf Coast State College a “drone boot camp” for exiting military.

The program would allow exiting military personnel to earn as many as eight certifications in piloting drones in an accelerated curriculum.

The program is seen as a wraparound the drone programs Gulf District Schools is launching at the two senior-junior high schools, allowing entry points for jobs or internships for students completing safety certifications.

The Triumph board may also take action on a proposal from GCSC and the Gulf/Franklin campus to house a technology center marrying drone technology to needs and uses after natural disasters.

Skyborne Technology is working on an airship which may ultimately become a component of that program.

Maybe most importantly for county officials, is one direction taken by discussion during a special meeting of Triumph earlier this month.

Convened to allow the board to consider potential options for addressing the COVID-19 pandemic; the board approved earmarking $1 million for a training program in construction trades such as concrete and masonry and commercial trucking.

And among other options, one the county is lobbying in support, would be for Triumph to disburse directly to each of the eight impacted Northwest Florida counties the pledged percentage for the upcoming fiscal year.

Each county is pledged 4 percent, or about $3.2 million.

“We need them to give us the 4 percent this year,” said County Administrator Michael Hammond. “We need it sooner rather than later.”

Hammond said few communities in Northwest Florida will qualify for any funding under the federal stimulus bill known as the CARES Act.

“None of this federal money is coming to Northwest Florida,” Hammond said.

Though details have not been adopted or much discussed, the county would hope to use this year’s 4 percent Triumph pledge to establish, on a much smaller scale, a program similar, at least in concept, to the federal plan aimed at aiding small businesses owners.

The Board of County Commissioners would establish a fund to provide loan/grant packages to bolster small businesses buffeted by Hurricane Michael in late 2018 and now COVID-19.

Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc. was legislatively-established to disburse over 15 years some $1.5 billion in fine dollars stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill to the eight most-impacted Northwest Florida counties.

Gulf County has long lobbied to have the county’s pledged share, amounting to over $60 million over 15-year term, disbursed directly to the county, believing local officials better situated to make decisions to spur economic development.

Emergency declarations extended

During Tuesday’s regular monthly meeting, the BOCC extended for another seven days two emergency declarations, one of which includes the closing of the County Courthouse to the public, that have resulted from the coronavirus pandemic.

In reality, pandemic or not, the courthouse would have likely been closed due to the extensive water damage caused by a major water leak followed by a smaller water leak.

Repairs are ongoing and Hammond said he hoped everything would be completed so the courthouse could reopen, with CDC guidelines in place, May 4.

“We should be ready to go Monday … should be,” Hammond said.

Workforce challenges

The county could lose more than 40 workers hired under a program through CareerSource Gulf Coast.

The workers were hired in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael and are in positions from the golf course to Public Works.

“These people have benefited Gulf County tremendously and we have more work to do,” said Public Works director Mark Cothran.

However, the payroll allocation was due to run out this week save an agreement between the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and CareerSource Gulf Coast.

The workers remain in place until a solution can be found; the BOCC will formally communicate with FDEO on the issue.

Commissioner Jimmy Rogers said with inmate crews unavailable due to COVID-19, “Without this program we’d be in a mess.”

Property sale

The BOCC approved selling a pair of lots purchased with $65,000 of Gulf County Tourist Development Council funds that are adjacent to the 10th Street Ball Park in Port St. Joe.

A proposal to rehabilitate the ball park complex led to a lawsuit that effectively killed the project.

The county’s purchase of the lots, ostensibly to enhance parking, remained a sore point for litigants in the lawsuit.

Commissioners approved a $60,000 minimum bid for the two lots.