PBA uses this blog to post individual articles from our monthly newsletters. Members can comment on these articles.
  • 09/14/2015 10:10 AM | Anonymous

    (by Thomas St. Myer, Pensacola News Journal): 

    Just three days after the Board of County Commissioners shed some light on its feelings about the uncertain future of the Santa Rosa Island Authority, the Pensacola Beach Advocates will host a meeting at 6 p.m. Monday in the sanctuary of Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church.

    PBA President Benjamin Stevenson said the primary purpose for the meeting is to introduce beach residents to county directors and staff who will be responsible for providing services on the beach. The county is assuming control of the Public Safety and Public Works departments from the Santa Rosa Island Authority, effective Oct. 1.

    The county commissioners discussed the transition of the two departments and the future of the Island Authority for about 18 minutes at their Thursday morning committee workshop.

    Last month, the commissioners voted to cut the roughly $8 million Island Authority budget in half and slice commercial and residential lease fees in half in correlation with the county seizing control of the two departments. The county will fund the operational budgets for the departments with an escrow currently set aside for land taxes that holds about $7,600,000.

    Stevenson complimented the Island Authority for its incredible care of the beach, but he is confident the county will hold up to its promise to maintain those lofty standards.

    "County officials will succeed out there as well," Stevenson said.

    The Island Authority will be down to three departments — financing, administration and lease, and environmental and developmental services. Lease fee collections will fund what remains of the governing branch.

    Commissioner Wilson Robertson (District 1) questioned why the Island Authority is losing only half its funding, if the county is absorbing the expense for two departments that exceed half the previous SRIA budget.

    "At what point do we look at half the budget and say, 'Well, you don't have half the responsibility and operations you used to have, so do you still need half the budget?'" Robertson said.

    Chairman Steven Barry (District 5) said, "This board's going to make that decision. We can make that decision today."

    The island falls in the district of Commissioner Grover Robinson IV. Robinson suggested to his fellow commissioners that they seek input about services from island residents over the next year or two before possibly cutting further into the Island Authority budget.

    Robinson favors ultimately eliminating lease fees. If that occurs, the Island Authority will essentially lose all of its funding.

    "First, we have to know if (beach residents) want to keep (the services) or not," Robinson said, "and if they want to keep them how are we going to fund them? Because there's going to need to be something separate than what we pay in generalized ad valorem taxes."

    Despite the uncertainty, the Island Authority will remain a governmental branch for the foreseeable future.

    The Florida legislature created the Island Authority by Special Act in 1947. The Special Act states the legislature is the only governmental branch with the power to disband the Island Authority. Robinson said eliminating the Island Authority is not among the items on the wish list submitted by the county to the legislature.

    No matter what happens to the Island Authority, the commissioners agreed enhanced services will be required for the island.

    "If you take a snap shot from today to five years from now, there's going to be a revenue generating structure of some sort that wraps the island for the enhanced services," Barry said. "Now probably in five years maybe there will not be lease fees, maybe a special taxing district, an MSTU (Municipal Service Taxing Unit) to the island.

    "There's got to be something, then, that those revenues are staying and are specifically segregated to stay and enhance services on the island, and I don't know what exactly that will be called, when does that happen? I think we start that discussion."

    Pensacola Beach Advocates meeting

    •When: 6 p.m. Monday

    •Where: Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church, 920 Via de Luna Drive, Pensacola Beach

    •Purpose: For island residents to meet county directors and staff who will be responsible for providing services on the beach and to discuss the lease-fee reduction setup with Island Authority staff

    For the original article, click here.

  • 09/10/2015 8:56 AM | Anonymous

    (By Thomas St. Myer, 

    A potential bombshell slowly defused Wednesday night at the Santa Rosa Island Authority board meeting after board members discussed the future of executive director Buck Lee and his potential successor for about 30 minutes.

    Chairwoman Tammy Bohannon caught the rest of the board members off guard when she proposed Lee be paid through May 23, but that he step aside Oct. 9, three months before his planned retirement date of Jan. 15. She cited the urgency to transition to a new director with the county assuming control of the Public Safety and Public Works departments Oct. 1 as reason for him to move up his last day as executive director.

    Her proposal came after Lee read a two sentence statement about his retirement. Lee missed out on the opportunity to announce his retirement last month, leaving the meeting early due to illness.

    "I thought I was going to read my two little sentences and leave," Lee said.

    Board member Karen Sindel said, "How'd that work out for you?"

    "Not very well," said a good-humored Lee, who joked about his refusal to mow grass and the possibility of someday working at Ace Hardware.

    Jerry Watson told fellow SRIA board members that he preferred Lee stay through the transition. Dave Pavlock then questioned why the rush to replace Lee. A few of the board members asked Lee if he wished to push up his retirement.

    "Let's come back and talk about this in committee, if that's the board's desire. … That won't be today. At the earliest, it'll be 30 days after that," Lee said.

    The board agreed, assigning the proposal to its administrative committee.

    Board members spoke for nearly 15 of the 30 minutes about a potential successor for Lee. Pavlock reiterated his preference the board promote from within. Sindel followed by a few other board members tabbed Paolo Ghio, director of developmental services, to be interim director.

    That prompted Robbie Schrock, director of administration, to announce the three Island Authority department directors — her, Ghio and Dottie Ford — formulated a plan for board members to consider at a later date.

    Schrock said they already spoke to four board members about their plan to replace Lee, with Sindel and Janice Gilley as the exceptions.

    Pavlock complimented Ghio as a director, but he suggested Schrock succeed Lee.

    "I do appreciate that. We do have a plan A and plan B on just what our personal ideas are," Schrock said to the board. "We are all three on the same page, and we have a great thing going on the island."

    Schrock encouraged the board to let the directors speak to each of the board members before they decide on a successor.

    Lee cited the uncertain future of the Island Authority for why he opted to retire two to three years earlier than he initially planned.

    Bohannon hinted that the Island Authority will last at least through the year. County commissioners reportedly authorized the county administrator and attorney to discuss with the Island Authority board about a joint request to change the Special Act in time for the next legislative session, but Bohannon said, "I've been told that's completely off the table."

    The Florida legislature created the Island Authority by Special Act in 1947 and is the only entity that possesses the power to disband the SRIA.

    The discussions about Lee and his potential successor perhaps overshadowed a tribute to Bob West, the public safety director who is retiring effective Sept. 30. Bohannon presented West a plaque after spending about two minutes rattling off his impressive accomplishments in 12 years as director.

    "The reality is it's not me," West said. "There are so many cogs on this great big wheel that have turned things around, and I'm just really proud to be one cog on this wheel."

    For a link to the original article, click here.

  • 09/09/2015 11:20 AM | Anonymous

    (by Thomas St. Myer, PNJ

    Anyone spending money on a hotel room, dinner, souvenir or the sort on Santa Rosa Island will soon pay anywhere from a few cents to a few dollars less, assuming the sellers cooperate.

    Last week, the Santa Rosa Island Authority sent a letter to commercial leaseholders about its lease fee reduction policy, which takes effect Oct. 1. Island Authority percentage fees will be reduced in half for full-service restaurants, fast food restaurants, beer and wine, professional services, retail sales, room rental, and other sales and services.

    Holiday Inn Express General Manager Beverly McCay demonstrated how that reduction will save patrons renting a hotel room. The Island Authority collects 2.5 percent in fees for room rentals, which will decrease to 1.28 percent. That perhaps seems miniscule, but McCay used an example in which a patron renting a $100 room would save nearly $10.

    If someone rents a hotel room today for $100 that total is multiplied by 2.55 percent for the Island Authority. That $102.55 is then multiplied by 11.5 percent (7.5 percent for state tax and 4 percent for tourism development tax) equaling $125.62. After Oct. 1, that same room will cost $116.47.

    "Every little bit helps, but it's a little bit," said McCay, who falls in line with the overwhelming majority on the Island that argue since they pay property taxes they should have title to the property and should not have to pay lease fees.

    The percentage fee reduction results from the Board of County Commissioners voting last month to cut the Island Authority budget in half and hand control of its Public Safety and Public Works departments to the county. In turn, commercial and residential leaseholders will pay half their previous lease fees.

    Keisha Turner, an accounting specialist for the Island Authority, said commercial leaseholders are within their rights to decline the percentage fee reduction, but if they choose that option, they will be required to pay the Island Authority the same amount as the previous year.

    "Whatever fee they charge the customers, we'll charge them," Turner said.

    Tom Carmichael, co-owner of two Pensacola Beach establishments in Capt'n Fun Beach Club and Jubilee Oyster Bar & Grille, said he swallows the liquor sales percentage fees rather than charge patrons the extra 3 to 5 percent for the Island Authority. He then pays the Island Authority thousands of dollars out of pocket. Carmichael is unsure that will change with reduced percentage fees.

    "It's difficult when you're a straight-up beer place," he said in reference to Capt'n Fun. "It's so competitive. A few cents is a big deal when you're talking about a single drink."

    Santa Rosa Island Authority board member Karen Sindel and her staff noted commercial leaseholders such as Carmichael stand to receive some relief from the lease fee reductions. The Island Authority collects a variety of fees from commercial leaseholders.

    The News Journal obtained a copy of the 99-year lease between the Holiday Inn Express and Island Authority. Percentage fees the hotel chain agreed to pay the Island Authority in its initial 15 years included:

    •2 percent of gross receipts from food sales, beer and wine, plus six cents per square foot per year on ground rental on ground space occupied by facilities for preparation and service of food

    •5 percent of gross receipts from sales of all alcoholic beverages other than beer and wine

    •5 percent of gross receipts from all other sources except room rentals

    •5 percent of first $12,500 of gross receipts per acre of demised premises

    •3 percent of the next $12,500 of gross receipts per acre of demised premises

    •1 percent of any gross receipts in excess of $25,000 in each of the first five years

    •2 percent of excess during the succeeding five years

    •2 ½ percent of such excess for the remainder of the term of the 99-year lease after the first 10 years of business.

    When asked why anyone would be willing to open a business on Santa Rosa Island and pay numerous lease fees as opposed to opening that same business in downtown Pensacola, McCay said, "Insanity. At this point until something is done to alleviate lease taxes, it's insanity."

    For a link to the article, click here.

  • 09/02/2015 9:14 PM | Anonymous

    For those of you who missed it in the most recent edition of the Island Times, the SRIA published their official policy on Lease Fee Reductions.  The document is available here: Lease Fee Reduction Policy - Final.pdf.  As a reminder to all members, there will be a membership meeting on Monday, September 14, 2015 at the beach Catholic Church starting at 6 p.m. where the new changes will be addressed, questions will be taken, and we will have the opportunity to discuss with our membership what the future may hold.  Officials from Escambia County and the Island Authority will be speaking.  Take a look at the SRIA's policy statement and come join us at the meeting.  Hope to see everyone there!

  • 09/02/2015 8:58 PM | Anonymous

    (PNJ 9/2/15, by Will Isern) It’s no secret Santa Rosa Island has a traffic problem.

    With the exception of the early birds, anyone who has tried going to Pensacola Beach during the weekend this summer has likely sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

    The lone stop light on the beach at the intersection of Via De Luna and Fort Pickens Road can create back ups stretching to the Bob Sikes Bridge toll booth. Pedestrians crossing the street from Casino Beach to the Quietwater Beach Boardwalk create further delays, not to mention a safety hazard.

    The problem isn’t new, but has become increasingly worse as tourism numbers have continued to rise year over year since the BP oil spill.

    “It’s a good problem to have, but it is a problem,” Escambia County commissioner Grover Robinson said.

    The Board of County Commissioners is well aware of the issues beachgoers encounter, and will begin on Thursday to take steps to alleviate some of the traffic congestion.

    But first they will do what governments do: conduct a study. Commissioners on Thursday will consider allocating $450,000 of local option sales tax money to update the 2010 Pensacola Beach Master Plan to determine how best to alleviate the traffic congestion.

    As part of the update, whatever engineering firm the county hires will also be responsible for designing some short term fixes like traffic modifications for the Casino Beach and Circle K parking lots, as well as some potential long term improvements like a pedestrian flyover at the stop light and a relocation of the Santa Rosa Island Authority building.

    As part of the same agenda item, commissioners will also consider allocating $1.25 million for drainage improvements on the island. Drainage problems exist on some of the residential back roads and in the Casino Beach parking lots.

    “I tell people, I can’t help it if the bay rises, but if it rains and you get a lake in your front yard, we should be able to do something about that,” Robinson said.

    In coming from local option sales tax, the two expenditures on the island highlight the county’s newly expanded role on Santa Rosa Island following the reduction of the Island Authority.

    “The people who are paying taxes expect to get the same services everybody else is,” he said. “It’s time to start taking that money back there and start fixing things.”

    For the original article, click here.

  • 08/13/2015 12:08 PM | Anonymous
    Thomas St. Myer, -- 

    On the heels of Escambia County commissioners voting to slash the Santa Rosa Island Authority budget in half and hand control of its Public Works Department and Public Safety Department to the County, SRIA Executive Director Buck Lee submitted his letter of resignation, effective Jan. 15.

    Tammy Bohannon, the Santa Rosa Island Authority board chairwoman, announced his resignation Wednesday at the board meeting. The 68-year-old Lee left the meeting about an hour earlier, complaining of flu-like symptoms.

    Board member Thomas Campanella said Lee intends to meet one-on-one with each of the board members and explain his decision. Lee called Campanella on Wednesday to break the news. Campanella said Lee spoke in a matter-of-fact tone without the slightest hint of a quiver in his voice.

    Lee submitted his resignation on the same day that Public Safety Director Bob West filed his retirement papers after 12 years at SRIA. His retirement will be in effect Sept. 30, the day before the County assumes control of the department.

    “If I was still working under Buck it might be different,” the 59-year-old West said. “If the board hadn’t thrown us away, I’d feel a lot differently about that.”

    West described Lee as a phenomenal boss, who supported his employees and let them take risks.

    SRIA hired Lee, a Pensacola native, as its executive director in April of 2005 after Hurricane Ivan depleted its budget.

    “He came in after Ivan in ’05 when we were at a zero-base budget because nothing was open, everything was closed,” Campanella said. “He’s been here to build the beach back and go through the oil spill and all of that good stuff.

    “He doesn’t mind going out there wearing his Ole Miss hat and talking to everybody and just getting in the midst of everything.”

    Before his tenure as executive director, Lee served as county commissioner in both Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. He formerly owned Jack Lee Buick and Buck Lee Governmental Consulting Inc.

    Board member Dave Pavlock said Lee treats everyone on the island like they just bought a Buick off of him.

    “I’m sorry to see him go because he’s given 100 percent of his efforts and he’s had 100 percent respect and admiration by this board, and I think by the people on the beach and the businesses out here that are flourishing on the beach,” Pavlock said.

    Fellow board member Jerry Watson said Lee excelled as an executive director for a myriad of reasons, starting first and foremost with his communication skills.

    Lee tried unsuccessfully last week to persuade the county commissioners to leave SRIA alone.

    The commissioners cut the $8 million SRIA budget and took control of two of its departments as the first steps in stopping beach leaseholders from paying lease fees on top of property taxes. Lease fees will be reduced by a minimum of 50 percent.

    The SRIA budget is based solely on lease fees and covers expenses for lifeguards, services, salaries for 45 full-time staffers and 60 part-time staffers, and hosting events such as Bands on the Beach.

    Pavlock said replacing Lee will be a gargantuan task considering the uncertain future for SRIA.

    “We’re in a situation where we don’t know where we’re going to go with that,” Pavlock said. “To find someone that’s outside the organization is going to be very difficult to do because nobody’s going to want to take a job that they don’t know if it’s going to only last six months or a year or a year-and-a-half. With the staff that we have now here, I think we have talent that can continue to steer the ship in the direction we want to go.”

    Click here for the article

  • 08/10/2015 1:59 PM | Anonymous

    (by Thomas St. Myer, The Board of County Commissioners passed two ordinances at its meeting Thursday night that will significantly impact Pensacola Beach, its inhabitants and the Santa Rosa Island Authority.

    The commissioners voted unanimously for Escambia County to take over Public Works Department and Public Safety Department duties from the SRIA effective Oct. 1, and they unanimously approved an ordinance leave no trace (trash, chairs and the sort) on the beach.

    The SRIA budget ordinance is the first step in stopping Pensacola Beach residents from continuing to pay both property tax and lease fees. Lease fees by SRIA will be reduced by a minimum of 50 percent.

    “It ultimately benefits the County from the sense of trying to create parity and fairness in the way taxes and leases are administered on the island,” said Commissioner Grover Robinson IV (District-4). “… I think all of us agree that they shouldn’t be paying taxes on the land and leases at the same time.”

    The SRIA budget of about $8 million will be slashed in half. An escrow currently set aside for land taxes that holds about $7,600,000 will fund the operational budgets for the Public Works and Public Safety Department.

    Commissioner Wilson Robertson (District-1) questioned if the SRIA budget should be cut further. Commissioner Chairman Steve Barry (District-5) said that is worth discussing and recommended they discuss that possibility at a later date.

    The $8 million annual budget is based solely on lease fees and covers expenses for lifeguards, services, salaries for 45 full-time staffers and 60 seasonal staffers, and hosting events such as Blue Angels Pensacola Beach air show and Bands on the Beach. Robinson said SRIA will still be in charge of those events next year, but the commissioners will potentially search for ways such as a resort tax to fund them in the future.

    All SRIA Public Works and Public Safety Department employees will be transferred to the County with no loss of pay following an extension and acceptance of an offer of employment.

    The commissioners said the plan is for all current employees to be retained.

    “At this particular time, I don’t think that’s what envisioned from the County standpoint,” Robinson said of job losses. “Clearly all of the other individuals in those two departments are going to roll over to us.”

    The County will assume responsibility of some governmental functions from SRIA.

    The $200,000 paid by SRIA for fire services will be eliminated and absorbed by the Fire Municipal Services Benefit Unit (MSBU) fund. There will reportedly be no change in the Fire MSBU rate paid on Santa Rosa Island.

    The $75,774 paid by SRIA for ambulance services will be eliminated, too. An EMS fund will reportedly absorb that charge.

    SRIA Executive Director Buck Lee opposed the ordinance, but he spoke in favor of cutting lease fees for residents. Lee attended the commissioners meeting, but he left before the SRIA budget came up for discussion. He spoke with the commissioners about the ordinance Thursday morning at a SRIA budget meeting.

    “My main concern is keeping it the same level of service that we had,” Lee said. “I think the commissioners want to see the same level with the lifeguards and cleanup. We start at 4:30 in the morning and don’t stop until 12:30 next morning.”

    Only one resident spoke in the public forum about the SRIA budget, but the leave no trace ordinance attracted five public speakers to the microphone. All five residents voiced their support for the ordinance.

    “Having been here for almost 15 years now, I’ve watched it gradually get worse and worse,” Gulf Breeze resident Jim Cox said. “… It’s exasperated in recent years. The more people see other people leaving on the beach then they’ll leave on the beach. It’s one of these things where my neighbor does it, I’ll do it.”

    The leave no trace ordinance calls for personal property left on the beach after 7 p.m. to be removed and disposed of properly. The commissioners amended the ordinance to include that a deposit may be set as determined by the county administrator. The ordinance will take effect at the first of the year.

    Santa Rosa Island budget ordinance

    •Any new hires by SRIA for the Public Works or Public Safety Department prior to Oct. 1 will require approval of the county administrator or his designee.

    •All county roads on Santa Rosa Island will be included in the County’s existing resurfacing program.

    •The county administrator and county attorney are authorized to begin discussions with SRIA to jointly request a change to the Special Act in time for the next legislative session.

    click here to view the article

  • 08/07/2015 2:29 PM | Anonymous

    On August 6, 2015, the Escambia County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) approved the transfer of two SRIA departments to the county.  All expenses associated with the Departments of Public Works and Public Safety, including employees, equipment, and operating costs will now be funded without the use of our lease fees. 

    As a result, the SRIA will reduce both residential and business lease fees by 50% effective October 1, 2015.  

    SRIA and County staff will begin meeting immediately to ensure a smooth transition.  During the budget workshop there was much discussion about maintaining the current level of services on Pensacola Beach.  Jack Brown, County Administrator, assured the Board that County officials plan to create two new divisions under the County's Public Works and Public Safety departments.  All current SRIA staff positions would be transitioned into these two divisions, and it is expected that they will continue to function much as they do right now. 

    During the budget workshop they also discussed the fact that they need to start looking into what the SRIA should look like when all governmental services are eventually picked up by the County.  Do we want a SRIA Board?  If so, what do we envision as their role in managing Pensacola Beach?  Now is the time to voice your concerns and suggestions.

    This reduction in lease fees is a result of a coalition of PBA, the lodging representatives, and the Pensacola Beach Chamber, who educated, informed and encouraged the BoCC to take action after over 11 years of collecting taxes on the island while allowing us to pay for governmental services with lease fees that other county residents enjoy at no charge beyond their ad valorem taxes. We consider this to be the first step towards the elimination of lease fees, and we fully intend to continue our work towards this end.

  • 08/06/2015 10:23 AM | Anonymous

    On Aug. 6, 2015, Escambia Board of County Commission (BoCC) enacted the "Leave no Trace" Ordinance.  The ordinance helps ensure the beaches on Pensacola Beach are clutter free and retuned to its natural state after sunset.  It prohibits persons from leaving tents, chairs, coolers, umbrellas, and other personal items on the beach overnight.  Penalties may include a $500 fine or 60 days in jail. 

    The ordinance is now in effect.  Please keep our beaches clean and remove your belongs at the end of the day.

  • 07/15/2015 8:50 PM | Anonymous

    The Santa Rosa Island Authority's 2016 proposed budget reflects a nearly 50% reduction and transfer of expenditures to the County.  If the budget and transfers are approved, then SRIA has agreed to reduce lease fees accordingly.  On July 13, 2015, the PBA sent a proposal to the Santa Rosa Island Authority encouraging SRIA to implement the proposed lease fee reduction across all classes of leaseholders by reducing each payers’ rate equally.  Details are available here.

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