In a workshop session, the Walton Commissioners considered how to proceeded with the RESTORE Act. This is the legislation that will bring Oil Spill Fine dollars to the Gulf Coast counties that were affected by the disaster. How the money is being distributed and how it will be spent is to be decided by a group and how that group is to be formed is still a question.
The RESTORE dollars have three pots of money. The eight disproportionately affected counties in Florida will get 35% directly. This is the local pot. The federal pot is 30% that will go to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Council. And 30% is the state pot and this will be divided among the states. Florida should get around 20% of this. This pot also requires a consortia of local political subdivisions to develope the state environment and economic restoration plan with at least one representative from each affected county.
For the 35% local pot Walton will have the group’s members made of various county, city, tourism, environmental and other representatives. The group would have 7-9 members. This group did not generate a lot of questions since it will be local and the money comes directly to the county. This is a pot that the county can have full say on use.
The 30% state pot and the required consortium brought the most questions. Walton is trying to get ahead of the creation and has to decide how it will join. The thought is, the local counties should join together and create the local consortium. There are 23 affected counties and eight of them are considered disproportionately affected. Walton is one of these, basically the Florida counties that suffered the most.
Commissioner Sara Comander said the governor will likely appoint members to the consortium if they do not take action first. She feels that if the 23 counties work together, then the state will not create another. Larry Jones said he was not sure about that. Comander also said smaller counties could get the short end of the stick.
Anita Page asked if the eight counties of the twenty-three that have been most affected will get the best shot for their projects. The RESTORE funds are to be used for projects to enhance the county such as a fishing pier. Page also noted the requirements say there is a mechanism for expenses that have the eight counties paying 75% for the administration costs. She wonders if that formula will carry forward. She told the commissioners there should be a decision now, that the method should not be decided later.
There is concern that some of the counties further down the coast, especially the larger counties, could get a larger proportion of the funds. The meetings are already being held from Sarasota to Pensacola and some feel this shows an effort to view all the same and not take into account the eight counties severely affected. There are also concerns about the information to the public. While the meetings will be held in the sunshine, getting information is a concern. If the state decides who is on the consortium, then politically more powerful counties could see larger amounts of funds, though they were not affected as much.
Walton District 5 Commissioner Elect Cindy Meadows said Walton needs to be aggressive. She said Walton needs to tell the state what it wants, that it was affected more. She said, “South Florida counties will get together and eat our lunch.” Meadows said Walton will get left behind and that the residents want leadership.
The workshop will continue on Wednesday, October 3rd at 9am.