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Public Input Sought For Island Authority Funding

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Bob Barrett
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WUWF News

The Santa Rosa Island Authority is at a bit of a crossroads.

The authority, which provides many services and events on Pensacola Beach, has been funded over the years, for the most part, with the lease fees paid by homeowners on the island. However, those home owners are now also being charged ad valorem property taxes. Some have called paying both property taxes and lease fees a form of double-taxation.

This prompted lawsuits against the lease fees, some of which have not been settled and are still in the Florida Supreme Court. If that suits are successful and the fees go away, so would a good sized chunk of the funding for the Santa Rosa Island Authority. And that would put a lot of services on Pensacola Beach at risk. That’s where the West Florida Regional Planning Counsel comes in. Vickie Garrett, a planner from the counsel says The Santa Rosa Island Authority "put out a request for proposals for a community planner to assist in assessing the organizational structure and funding sources out on Pensacola beach." The counsel has been engaged to help balance the situation with the taxes and lease fees while maintaining the level of service the SRIA provides.

And with the lease fees possibly going away the long term future of those services is very much in question. This week, the public is being invited to provide their input on who should be providing those services and who should be paying. "Do they want the Santa Rosa Island Authority or do they want the county board of commissioners?" said Buck Lee, the SRIA’s Executive Director. Lee points out that the maintenance staff alone mans Pensacola Beach from 4 in the morning until after midnight. That service is in addition to putting on the Pensacola Beach Air Show with the Blue Angels, the weekly Bands on the Beach concerts and other events throughout the year.

Both Lee and Garrett agree that having input from the public is important. Garrett says they are looking for comment not just from residents and business owners, but from people who visit the beach frequently.

And while those non-resident visitors to the beach are an important source of funding the Island Authority, Buck Lee says the issue right now is replacing the loss of the lease fee revenue if they indeed are taken away. He says the SRA fee attached to hotel rooms and food and beverage bills on the beach bring in about $4 million dollar per year. The lease fees bring in another $3.5 million. "So let's say the residential lease fees go away, how do we supplement that?"

The public forum will be held Thursday afternoon at 5:30 at the Pensacola Beach Community Church.  On Friday afternoon The West Florida Regional Planning Council will then meet with the Santa Rosa Island Authority board. The Council will likely submit their final report two weeks later that the authority’s next regular board meeting.

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.