APALACHICOLA — The city of Apalachicola has spearheaded a resolution demanding municipalities have some say-so in how Florida’s county-bound funds from the RESTORE Act are spent.
The resolution, sent to every city in Florida’s eight counties disproportionately affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, outlines support for a distribution formula to give municipalities control of how the dollars are spent.
“We want to make sure the cities have some say-so,” said Apalachicola City Administrator Betty Taylor-Webb “There are several cities that have it on their agendas for discussion but have not taken action yet.”
Apalachicola and Carrabelle each adopted the resolution, as has the city of Parker in Bay County. Mexico Beach also discussed the resolution last week’s council meeting.
The resolution’s formula takes the total county funds received and distributes them based on a formula in which an area’s proportion of sales tax receipts, and proportion of population, are averaged together to form a single percentage. That number is then used to calculate how much of the funds go to each city, to be controlled by the city commissions, and how much to the unincorporated county population, to be controlled by county commissioners.
“You need to do the math before you agree to anything,” said Mexico Beach City Manager Chris Hubbard, in presenting a sample calculation to the council last week. “Everyone is going to try to do what’s in their own best interest.”
Florida is unique in the RESTORE process as it is the only one of the five Gulf Coast states to send a portion of funds directly to the affected counties. The eight disproportionately impacted counties — Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay, Gulf, Franklin and Wakulla — will receive 75 percent of the funds, with the remaining 15 coastal counties splitting 25 percent.
The Florida Association of Counties (FAC) has suggested counties appoint advisory councils to decide where to spend the local RESTORE funds. FAC spokeswoman Cragin Mosteller said although counties are not required to form RESTORE committees, the FAC has recommended it to invoke transparency in the process.
“We have certainly encouraged (the counties) to develop those committees. Transparency is going to be critical in this process,” Mosteller said. “From the time of the spill, our cities and counties have worked very well together and I believe that will continue.”
Gulf County has formed an advisory committee, but Franklin and Bay counties have not.
Apalachicola City Attorney J. Patrick Floyd, who drafted the resolution for the city, said forming these countywide advisory committees would add an unnecessary layer of government to the process.
“We think logic dictates that rather than setting up another layer of government, it’s better to just use the city commissions that are already set up,” Floyd said. “Every city already has a list of projects they’re working toward.
“This is an opportunity where Carrabelle and Apalachicola are on the same page,” he said, at the Sept. 24 city commission meeting.
“This gives us opportunity to have a Come to Jesus meeting,” said Mayor Van Johnson.
Floyd said the resolution is not something put into effect by law, but an idea Apalachicola fully supports. He said the next step for the Franklin County municipalities would be to relay the information to the county commission and see if the board would consider adoption.
“We’re not trying to provoke a fight; what we’re saying is ‘Let’s look at this carefully,’” Floyd said. “There’s nothing in the (RESTORE) Act that prohibits this.”
On Sept. 6, the city of Apalachicola sent a copy of the resolution with a letter from Johnson to each county commissioner but has yet to receive a response. The city followed up by sending an additional resolution initiating a conflict resolution procedure between the city and county and requesting a joint meeting, anywhere in the county, to address the issue.
On Sept. 25, Johnson again wrote the county commissioners, reiterating the city’s desire for a three-way meeting “to reason together, eliminate issues and conflicts and agree upon a distribution plan,” noting that Carrabelle would be a good place to hold it.
“Come to us and tell us why this particular plan is not something that should be accepted,” said Floyd.
“We need a set, clear calculation so no one feels like their getting shorted,” he said. “We’re trying to work with the county commissions to come up with a fair and simple method for the distribution of this money. Everyone is interested in trying to work and set up a partnership with the county; that’s what this is all about.
“Good fences make good neighbors,” he said. “Simple correct calculations make good neighbors.”
At Tuesday morning’s meeting. County Attorney Michael Shuler shared the letter from Apalachicola regarding the RESTORE act, and said he had met with Floyd Friday to discuss it.
“The letter speaks for itself,” Shuler reported. “Since I have not gone to the RESTORE meetings and discussions, I told him(Floyd) that I was not in a position to discuss the substance of the letter.”
Shuler said his position is that the city cannot invoke chapter 164 to require a settlement discussion because the county’s compliance with a federal law cannot be the basis of a dispute with the city.
This chapter 194 of the Florida Statutes has as its purpose “to enhance intergovernmental coordination efforts by the creation of a governmental conflict resolution procedure that can provide an equitable, expeditious, effective, and inexpensive method for resolution of conflicts between and among local and regional governmental entities.
“It is the intent of the Legislature that conflicts between governmental entities be resolved to the greatest extent possible without litigation,” it reads.
Shuler told commissioners he would review the RESTORE act and respond accordingly to the city.
Times City Editor David Adlerstein contributed to this story.