PBA would like to thank all beach residents and business owners, members and non-members alike, for such a great turnout last night at the public input session. The following article from the PNJ is proof that a strong showing by island residents and businesses is important in order to get our message out regarding lease fee reductions, allocation of tax revenue, the future of the SRIA, and fee simple title:
By Kimberly Blair, PNJ, 4/24/15:
Keep the Santa Rosa Island Authority.
Keep the same level of services on Pensacola Beach.
Make Escambia County pay for those services with taxes collected from beach leaseholders.
That was the consensus among 100 mostly Pensacola Beach folks who showed up at a public forum Thursday, hosted by the West Florida Regional Planning Council.
The planning council has been contracted to analyze the organizational structure of the Island Authority and funding sources to figure out ways to continue to pay for beach services the public expects on the island to pave the way for a reduction or elimination of lease fees. Lease fees paid by residents and businesses fund the Island Authority's $9 million budget.
Some people said they expected the meeting to be a full on debate and wax on for hours.
But it ended in about 45 minutes and only 12 people stood up to speak, resoundingly in favor of keeping the SRIA in tact, and resolute that now that they are paying taxes, Escambia County should be footing the bill for lifeguards, maintenance and other necessary services for the beach to continue to be the county's major tourist draw.
Peter Nemeth got a round of applause when he said the county should reinvest some of the (tax) money back into the beach. Use some of the the tax windfall to fund the SRIA.
"And all residents should get a free pass on the toll bridge," he said.
Charles Parris said lease fees have to go.
"This is double taxation. It's incumbent on them (the county) to provide us essential services," he said. "No one loves Bands on the Beach more than I do. Obviously, the Blue Angels are part of our DNA. The county needs to come up with that money, not from the lease fees."
Nan Harper said one of the reasons Pensacola Beach is Northwest Florida's jewel is because of how well it's maintained. Workers are on the beach before dawn and don't stop cleaning it up until well after dark, she pointed out.
"We just won a major award because of the care and maintenance of the Island Authority," she said. "If we reduce that level of maintenance, of course our tourism success is going to diminish."
The public meeting was part of the final phase of the planning council's analysis it will present to the SRIA board in the near future, said Regional Planner Vikki Garrett, who moderated the forum.
She said the next step is to summarize Thursday's comments and present them to the SRIA board.
The board will use the findings to make recommendations to Escmabia County commissioners who are looking into what services on the beach the county can take over with tax dollars.
"The SRIA board wants to feel confident they are doing something that is supported by the community," Garrett said. "They are having to make tough decisions."
The next step in the process, she said, is presenting the SRIA board the planning council's analysis of the Island Authority operational structure during a workshop Friday.
Want to go?
WHAT: Santa Rosa Island Authority Comprehensive Analysis workshop, hosted by West Florida Regional Planning Council.
WHEN: 1-3 p.m. Aug. 24.
WHERE: SRIA building, 1 Via de Luna, Pensacola Beach.
WHO: Open to the public but there will be no public comment period.
DETAILS: (850) 932-2257.