Escambia County Commission candidate questionnaire results
The Greater Pensacola Chamber sent an online questionnaire to local candidates running for Escambia County Commission. Questions focus on issues affecting the business community.
*Answers provided by candidates are their own words. Content has not been altered by Chamber staff.
Business Climate / Regulations Issues
Q1: Rate the regulatory climate for business in Escambia County. Is it good, fair or bad? Explain your answer.
Jeff Bergosh: I have owned multiple small businesses in Pensacola and also in other states, so I speak from some experience and perspective on this question. ( I’ve owned a restaurant, two sports bars, two nightclubs, a hair salon, multiple commercial properties, and I have recently co-founded two non-profit corporations and I’m working on an online idea sharing website for local governments statewide) I believe the regulatory climate here is fair, but some of the permitting and licensing processes are cumbersome and dated, and when one factors in the interaction small business owners must have between state, local, and in some cases Federal permitting authorities as well—it all can quickly become very complicated. Opinions vary, but locally I believe most processes are fair, and certainly they are much better than in other parts of the country where over-regulation and frivolous litigation strangles small businesses badly—I have experienced that firsthand in some businesses I have owned on the West Coast. There are several examples I will give as to this climate as it pertains to Pensacola and Escambia County in the answers below.
Audra Carter: I would rate the regulatory climate for business in Escambia County as good. Why? For many years, the regulatory climate for business in Escambia County, the Pensacola Region, has been boasted as one of the best business climates in the Southeast. Pensacola has recently been ranked in the Forbes Top 100 cities for cost of doing business. Pensacola offers competitive cost of doing business and very favorable tax rates and incentives to include “Workforce” related tax advantages and “Expedited Permitting.”
Jesse Casey: Fair. There is plenty of room for improvement, and there is nothing wrong with having a minimum set of guidelines and regulations in place, although it would be helpful if they could make the process of doing business in Escambia County more user friendly.
Karen Sindel: Fair: There needs to be a greater emphasis on establishing and maintaining standard operating procedures that take the politics out of planning, zoning, permitting, code enforcement and other regulatory processes. This creates a transparent, level playing field for everyone. Without it these entities are subject to outside political influence that does not always serve the greater good of businesses or residents. Quality of life is also affected by these same processes. Many existing businesses are here because they choose to be here: they could be located anywhere. And it is the quality of life that brought them here and keeps them here, which must be protected and enhanced. Escambia County has a complete offering for recruiting and retaining businesses to our community. We have a diverse workforce including former military; a wide range of universities, colleges technical schools, and one of the best research institutions in the world; workforce training; a growing technology and knowledge based industry; regional airport; rail; interstate highway; an amazing heritage and cultural offering; pristine beaches; lower cost of living; and an amazing quality of life. Our challenge is not just the competition from surrounding communities and States, but is also from the many different layers of government with which to content. There are two different Planning Boards, two different Boards of Adjustment, Architectural Review Boards, and all of the differing government regulations that are included in these processes. I have experienced the hardship of working through these processes both as a small business owner and a civic activist. It took me 18 months to secure approval for a dog park on Pensacola Beach. We need to work more as a unified community and not city vs county or district vs district. Alabama and the rest of Florida may be our competition but we are often our own worst enemy.
Mirza Ahmad: Business Regulation in Escambia County are good. They keep fairness between businesses with equal rules, regulations and inform, and protects consumers of goods and services guaranteeing quality.
Lumon May: I think that it has certainly improved we have some major projects in the works due to Navy Federal and the Studer projects. It’s good and I think we are headed in the right direction.
Steven Barry: I would describe the business climate of Escambia County as fair, not in an equitable sense of fairness, but in the sense of the climate being better than it has been in the past, but we still need a lot of work to be a great environment for business.
Danny Smillie: Fair. So many complications, permits, and restrictions to start business. You have to have so much money and insurance to start a business. Many are going out of town because its easier to start a business.
Q2: Provide any examples of how regulations have affected the lives of county residents in a positive or negative way.
Jeff Bergosh: Setting aside a pet-friendly stretch of beach area, as well as construction of several dog parks, has made life better for county residents who love their pets— and there are many. After walking to 7,416 District 1 homes personally thus far in this campaign, I can report that more than 90% of households I visited have one or more dogs, so these actions by the county have been very positive for pet owners like me and many other residents in my district. On the negative side, I would say failure to enforce a state regulation by entities locally has resulted in some journeymen tradesmen losing work. The example here is when the big-box chains over the last few years laid off licensed plumbers and electricians for the home installations of dishwashers, microwave ovens, and other appliances, replacing these tradesmen with “handymen,” this was not prudent. To compound this issue, although a state plumbing license is required for a retailer’s employee or contractor to install a dishwasher, big name retailers are using non-licensed labor to install dishwashers locally. When county officials were notified about this and given specific information on violators (by a plumber who was laid off), the county failed to act. This is an issue I will work to rectify if I am elected and if it remains an issue when I take office if elected. Rules must be enacted when necessary, fairly written, and enforced with fidelity—otherwise citizens lose trust in government and the entire system implodes.
Audra Carter: Escambia County has not managed to pull together multiple sectors of the community as a concerted effort to address health issues through solutions and support teams and awareness programs. We need to work together to help change lifestyle choices and overall issues with poverty, education, housing, health, and the environment. As County Commissioner, I would address and examine solutions to these issues with a dedicated and diverse team.
Jesse Casey: Well on a positive note, I believe that everyone has to meet the minimum requirements and it makes the process equal for everybody. It’s meant to protect our residents, but sometimes there is too much government control, and it would be nice if in some cases there would be less government involvement.
Karen Sindel: I prefer small, less invasive government vs over reaching regulation. Escambia County has regulation/protections in place which have allowed us to control the overdevelopment of Perdido Key and Pensacola Beach, keep industrial and commercial development in their specially designated areas and out of residential neighborhoods; and protected NAS Pensacola from BRAC closures. But we also have to deal with regulations that have stopped progress in its tracks. We recently lost a major business to Alabama over having to bear the cost and time delay of bringing its existing buildings up to fire code just to be able to build a completely separate, new expansion building. Wetlands protection has a mitigation policy which allows development yet often times at such a significant cost that makes development not economically feasible.
Mirza Ahmad: Some ordinances or building codes positively affect the residents of the community by keeping down abandon building and unsafe structures.
Lumon May: Unfortunately, many times we have allowed for environmental concerns to not be addressed that often times has a negative impact of residents.
Steven Barry: One example of the impact of regulations on the community is what the Wedgewood community is dealing with today. There were decades of little or no regulation, and even when there were regulations, the enforcement was lax. Addressing the issue appropriately is taking us years.
Danny Smillie: Negative. When a family gets permit to setup a mobile home on family property who has a terminally ill family member is revoked before person dies. Try to get a carport installed and is given the run around. Sent to many offices about permits and drawings and other complicated items.
Q3: Name the top 3 specific county ordinances/regulations you would like to see eliminated. Explain why they should be eliminated.
Jeff Bergosh: More important than eliminating specific ordinances is enforcing consistently those ordinances that are already on the books. Any ordinance that has outlived its usefulness should be subject to a sunset provision—if it is no longer needed. But again, the larger issue is lax enforcement of existing regulations. I have met many angry residents in multiple District 1 subdivisions where I’ve walked who complain that lax enforcement of county codes as it relates to the permitting of lift-stations by builders has cost these same residents thousands and thousands of dollars in repair costs, legal fees, and in at least one case a $500,000 MSBU levied on unsuspecting residents due to a snafu between the county and ECUA. These residents are livid. Other residents I have met with complain that retention ponds have not been built to code, have not been maintained to code, and no one from the county caught this, and many of these residents’ neighborhoods have flooded as a result. So rules that are on the books for specific purposes must be enforced vigorously and fairly to prevent harm to citizens. This is the important matter at hand, much more important than cherry-picking particular ordinances that I would like to see removed. If we were to remove anything, I would start with the $5.00 per permit “online convenience fee” that small tradesman have to pay when they apply for a permit. The ironic thing that I have found is that if a licensed, mom-and-pop plumbing company wants to install a tank less water heater for a client in Escambia County, they must apply for the permit in person (no online capability to fill out the form), they must pay in person (unless they establish an escrow account and deposit a minimum of $500 in it and use a fax machine to submit the permit), and in the case of a tank less water heater, they must pay for two (2) separate permits, one for Gas and one for Plumbing (and two $5.00 “online convenience fees”). In 2016, we ought to be able to construct a better, less byzantine process to make online application, permitting, and payment processes less draconian and more user friendly. Left as it is, in the words of one tradesman I know well, “we will just keep on NOT getting permits.” We need to facilitate, expeditiously, procedures to ease this permit process; we need to ensure violations are cited, rules are followed by all, and together these adjustments will lead to more permits being issued, which will in turn generate more revenue for the county.
Audra Carter: I would be very careful about eliminating any ordinance or regulation without evaluation, investigation, and assessment as to the initial need, purpose and reasons for the ordinance in the first place. I would look at various regulatory ordinances and/or issues such as:
– Code Enforcement
– Medical Marijuana Cultivation Regulations
– County Sheriff’s Animal Control
– County Management Facilities
– Rules, Regulations, and Laws affecting Wildlife Management
– Unified Development Ordinance
After research, analysis’ and assessments, I would make a decision to eliminate any regulatory ordinance deemed unnecessary, burdensome on the community, businesses, and taxpayers, review the budget, cost and evaluate what is cost prohibitive versus beneficial to our goals and objectives.
Jesse Casey: Any ordinance that is not enforceable. Why would anybody put in work an ordinance if it cannot be enforced? I do not think any of our ordinances should be eliminated when they were put in place to protect our citizens and the environment.
A. The prohibition of fee simple title to Pensacola Beach leased land that is outside of the National Seashore and other public conversation land. Private leaseholders have been double taxed for over 10 years on leased land. They pay both a lease fee to the Santa Rosa Island Authority, a specially created public entity, and real estate taxes to the County on both their improvements and the leased land. I have worked as a SRIA Board member with the County to have the County assume responsibility for both the Public Works and Public Safety Departments, which allowed the SRIA Board to reduce lease fees last year by 50%. The County is currently working with our U.S. Senate and House members to provide private lease holders the option of fee simple title for the administrative cost of the transfer. This should be expedited.
B. I have already been active in eliminating and streamlining County ordinances as an appointee to the Escambia County Planning Board. I had the privilege for over 10 years of working on the County’s Comprehensive Plan and Land Development code, which included developing new ordinances as well as reviewing/updating those already in existence. Examples include: regulation of the placement of cell phone towers; protection of wetlands; protection of large old growth trees; limiting growth that would impede the aviation airspace of NAS Pensacola; protecting the intent of existing residential neighborhoods. This should be an ongoing process with emphasis on streamlining and making it easier for our businesses and residents to navigate.
C. I support government that provides protection through smart regulation rather than over reaching regulation. The needs of our community change as it grows. Government needs to proactively seek input from business and citizens on the need to review and change ordinances and regulatory review to those evolving needs. We need to skate to where the puck is going, now where it is now.
1. Regulations about DRC, Departmental Review Committee. If a property already declared commercial having a continue business but desire to change business to another of the same commercial zone code should not be required again DRC process and fee; because it’s extra financial burden and wasting time.
2. Animal Ordinance about cats need to be eliminated. It described that community cats are exempt from being picked up. Any cat could be picked up if it becomes a problem.
3. Any ordinance that forbids the display of a sign for charitable contribution need to be eliminated.
Lumon May: I am not sure of elimination. I think we should address many ordinances having community input.
Steven Barry: The BCC passed a new land development code earlier in 2016, with approximately 2/3 of the aggregate code volume being removed. The rewrite process was a very tedious, slow, six to seven year process. I have not heard much feedback about remaining issues the board needs to eliminate, but I am open to the idea. I want Escambia County to be a place where people and businesses attempting to invest their private capital into our community are treated as an asset, and the county senior staff leadership helps them work through their development. Private capital continuing to grow our tax base, as an aggregate figure, is absolutely integral to keeping property tax rates low.
Danny Smillie: N/A
Q4: Should Escambia County have a Human Rights Ordinance? Explain why or why not.
Jeff Bergosh: No. The County must follow all state a federal laws in this area. Any effort to expand or add to these is fraught with legal pitfalls. The County’s efforts must focus on local, business, operation, and infrastructure issues.
Audra Carter: Yes. Unfortunately, we have not been able to govern ourselves and understand the need to respect everyone as human beings who are created equal. However, I would carefully study and assess its need by determining the depth, breadth, scope, plan and enforceability of and for a Human Rights Ordinance before recommending implementation.
Jesse Casey: No, I believe that our Government has already passed a law against discrimination and that makes any and all discrimination illegal. Our Human rights are already protected.
Karen Sindel: Our community should always follow the policy of treating every citizen with respect and dignity. It should never discriminate on the basis of sex, gender, religion, race and/or age.
Mirza Ahmad: Human Rights are protected by federal and state law and ordinances. Therefore, county may establish the same.
Lumon May: I am open to any conversation about Human Rights.
Steven Barry: I noticed discussion earlier this year related to the Pensacola City Council and discussing the Human Rights Ordinance, but it is not an issue which we have discussed, even in passing.
Danny Smillie: N/A
Operations / Infrastructures Issues
Q5: Do you see any overlap or duplication of services between the county and the city? If so, what services should be consolidated? How could these services be consolidated?
Jeff Bergosh: There are many overlaps between the city and the county—and for that matter between these entities and the School Board and the ECUA. But consolidation is not always the panacea people think it will be….Functional consolidation of certain governmental functions that are duplicated in geographically adjacent and overlapping jurisdictions makes fiscal sense and is something I support if it is done correctly. This said, such consolidations typically cost positions in one (or both) of the entities that are looking to consolidate, so job cuts have to be palatable to those willing to take such a path. Also, long term liabilities in one entity (that has been fiscally prudent) may be at a manageable level whereas the liabilities of the other entity may be in dire straits (due to poorly-negotiated labor contracts, astronomical unfunded pension liabilities, long term-debt, etc.). So before any consolidation of governmental function is undertaken, it is vitally important to plan such a merge carefully, thoughtfully, and with stakeholder (citizen, entities, bargaining units, etc.) input. Additionally, a thorough study of the issue, illustrating that the benefits of such a merge outweigh the associated costs, prepared by an independent, unbiased third party auditor, would be something I would want to have before I moved forward with any consolidation locally.
Audra Carter: Potential overlapping or duplication of services between the county and the city might exist with the Fire Departments for City/County, City/County “Permitting and Business Licenses,” and Parks and Recreation. Perhaps these services can be consolidated with an MOU.
Jesse Casey: Yes, I see an overlap in several areas but the majority of the citizens of the county and the city do no support consolidation.
Karen Sindel: Total consolidation of the City and County; while having many economic and strategic advantages, is a heavy political lift that was recently reviewed and failed. Functional consolidation is, however, achievable if both the City and County have the political will. We should look at opportunities in:
– Planning Board
– Board of Adjustment
– Vehicle Maintenance
– Public Works
– And a myriad of advisory boards
I fully understand and support, as someone who served under 10 different County Commissioners as a member of the Planning Board, the need for a unified vision for our community. This not only enhances services and reduces costs; it makes it easier for businesses and residents to navigate the system.
Further, as a current appointee to the Santa Rosa Island Authority Board, I helped move the SRIA toward a smaller, less duplicative governmental entity for consolidating the services duplicated on the beach (public works and public safety) under the County.
The implementation starts with the political will of the Commissioners, the Mayor and the City Council to honestly look at the most cost effective and efficient functions to consolidate, develop a plan with a project manager, timeline and budget to implement and hold staff accountable for timely implementation. We all work for the citizens and should not be consumed with turf wars. Our job is to make their life a little easier by providing the basic services in the most efficient and cost effective manner. We are stewards of their money and we have a fiduciary responsibility.
Mirza Ahmad: There are waste disposal (trash) & water services in the city and Escambia County that should be consolidated, so people can keep same account in case they move from one place to other.
Lumon May: I would support a community board of stakeholders to address functional consolidation, such as but not limited to, Fire, Building Inspections, Parks and Recreation.
Steven Barry: I am not particularly familiar with the City of Pensacola governmental structure. However, if there is an opportunity to truly share the cost of services for some of the tax payers we both have a fiduciary responsibility to serve, then I am open to the idea. I would only support the consolidation of clearly duplicative services themselves, not the consolidation, or merger of the entities, Escambia County and Pensacola respectively.
Danny Smillie: No
Q6: How will you work to build a more collaborative environment among our elected officials? How can the county commission better work with other local and state officials to further business interests in Escambia County?
Jeff Bergosh: One of the things I have said to all the residents I have spoken with is this: elected officials must work together more collaboratively. To do this, I have pledged to the citizens of my district that if I am elected I will conduct monthly meetings in different areas of District 1 to field complaints about all the aspects of the district. I have additionally stated that If elected I will hold bi-annual one-stop town hall meetings for the residents of District 1 where the other constitutional officers of the district (school board, ECUA) will also be invited and encouraged to attend. I will also extend an invitation for the tax collector, property appraiser, and sheriff’s office to attend these twice-yearly meetings. These sorts of town-halls will allow for citizens to have a one-stop shop where they can air grievances and hopefully illuminate areas where the local governmental entities can work together more collaboratively. Additionally, my personal cell-phone number will be made available and I will answer it within 24 hours and I will continue to be an online presence that citizens and other elected officials can reach at all times.
Audra Carter: I would build a more collaborative environment among our elected officials, local and state officials, to further business interests in Escambia County by using open door communication – advocating active listening that will accurately and promptly solve issues. Each group or constituency must own their communication and engagement with a goal to speak clearly and logically to our community at large to promote confidence and buy-in of or decisions made – through interaction and advocacy for change and growth as may be necessary.
Jesse Casey: If you give respect, you get respect, and communication is the key, and a lot of it.
Karen Sindel: County Commissioners are elected by the voters in their District but once elected they represent every citizen in the entire county, which includes Pensacola and Century. Commissioners should attend School Board, City Council and ECUA meetings and have regular meetings with the Mayor, the Sheriff, our State legislative delegation and U.S. Senators and House members. We have to talk with business and industry leaders and the economic development agencies. There should be topic specific town hall meetings where ECUA, the Sheriff, Colleges, Universities, School Board, and other elected officials can attend depending on the topic in full compliance with Sunshine Laws.
The first step is to have open and engaging dialog. We have to talk honestly about the common problems and opportunities with public input, and that will give rise to discovering the priorities. And where to have the full support of an informed and engaged citizenry.
Escambia County does NOT have a strategic plan. Who would run a $400 million dollar company without a strategic plan? Without a plan we spend more time in costly and wasteful chaos management than in moving the community forward. Without a plan we have no unified direction for the community that allows businesses to plan for their growth. Without a plan we struggle toward with state official on securing the necessary funding for our community. We need a strategic plan that takes the politics out of process, and moves our community forward efficiently and cost effectively on its highest priorities.
Mirza Ahmad: Discussion: At least once a month should have meeting to discuss community issues and resolution.
Lumon May: I think open dialogue and joint meetings will help to keep fostering a positive relationship with our elected officials.
Steven Barry: I believe all of our elected representatives, regardless of the size or scope of the entity they represent, should make every effort possible to have a pleasant working relationship with each other. Many of us share common tax payers, rate payers, and constituents. I have been very supportive of joint meetings between the county and any of the other elected boards each time the issue has been up for discussion. The joint meetings require spending time with each other, and give you the opportunity to build healthy working relationships with your elected colleagues.
Danny Smillie: Have quarterly meetings. Find a way to reduce permits and the cost of the permits.
Q7: Do you believe the county allocates sufficient resources for infrastructure projects? How would you prioritize these projects and fund them?
Jeff Bergosh: I am a realist and I know that county resources are finite, yet the needs of our county appear to be infinite. Therefore this question is highly subjective and from what I have seen, more needs to be done. I have walked all over my district, to more than 7,400 homes personally in this election alone (20,000 + personal visits if my previous 3 District 1 races are added in) and infrastructure, specifically drainage issues, is the biggest challenge I have heard about from my constituents and seen firsthand in the communities of the district where I live and serve. Areas that flood on a regular basis due to poorly planned/engineered/constructed drainage systems must be addressed and I have stated that if elected I would push for a citizen’s committee to be formed with the identification of and prioritization of drainage projects county-wide as the primary goal of this committee. Then, similar to a hospital triage situation, the most desperately needed projects, as identified by the committee, would be worked from top to bottom until all identified drainage projects are addressed. Although county staff have worked very hard since the April 2014 flood event, there are still numerous areas of District 1 that have acute drainage problems, including an entire neighborhood that has experienced tremendous flooding since the construction of the Southwest Escambia Sports Complex in the southern part of District 1. These residents are furious and I am told they begged the county and the planning board not to fill in the wetlands and build the park—but their concerns fell on deaf ears. The engineering for the drainage was insufficient, and subsequently this entire community floods badly and much more frequently than ever before. This problem needs to be fixed and I have told those residents I would make their issue a top priority if I am elected. Unsafe roads and intersections are also a concern throughout District 1, and I have told the residents I have spoken with about these subjects that I would take the dangerous roads and intersections about which I am aware to the commission. The goal will be to work with the state, local and regional transportation entities to obtain funding for the repairs and/or redesigning of these unsafe roads and intersections.
Audra Carter: I believe the county at any given time has challenges and obstacles that prevent them from allocating sufficient resources for infrastructure projects. A thorough assessment of the variables that affect prioritization and implementation of projects and the resources and funding needed for these projects would be undertaken.
Jesse Casey: Initially at the time of budgeting, yes. But as we know, time is money, so when projects are delayed, prices change. The jail number 1, drainage 2,roads and sidewalks 3. When they do the annual budget, I would request funds to achieve our project goals and seek state and federal grants to help fund these projects and I would speed up the process to keep the prices in line.
Karen Sindel: No. Infrastructure is principally funded from Local Option Sales Tax Revenues and State and Federal Grants. The County should have full time grant writer(s) to grow our grant revenue for specific projects as not to add additional tax burdens on businesses and our citizens. Our community continues to show a positive growth trend and as we struggle to plan for the future we continue searching for solutions and funding to correct mistakes of the past. We also need to ensure that the County’s public works plan is priority based and political based reinforcing the need for an objective strategic plan.
Mirza Ahmad: County has sufficient resources, but does not allocates properly. Need good planning. I want to have priority for the best benefit for the community which is, to decrease poverty, health & safety and education.
Lumon May: I think the county has done well with its current resources there is no doubt that we will have to do more of an effort to address flooding and drainage projects.
Steven Barry: With the voters extending another term of the local option sales tax, Escambia County will have a very healthy amount of annual revenue to devote to capital projects, 35 + million. It’s important to me that our priority setting of the resources take place on the dais, with each commissioner passionately pitching for the respective needs of their district, and for their opinion of the needs of the entire county.
Danny Smillie: No. Build Escambia County new jail which will save millions of dollars being sent to Santa Rosa County. Make sure bridges, roads and evacuation routes for hurricanes are in top shape. Redistribute money, stop waste of money and make roads safe.
Q8: What would your five-year plan for Escambia County look like?
Jeff Bergosh: I have written a detailed plan that is posted at www.jeffbergosh.com it is specific, six pages long single spaced, and it was written to address the multiple issues I have seen firsthand and heard from constituents as I’ve personally gone door to door to more than 7,400 District 1 homes since last August. Here are the Cliff’s Notes: Streamlining the permitting processes that currently take too much time resulting in Escambia County’s loss of big-box retailers like Costco and Bass Pro Shops. We have also lost numerous other big manufacturers to counties to our East and West-and this must stop. Focusing on correcting infrastructure deficiencies as rapidly as possible within the constraints of LOST and other identified capital project funding sources. Getting the jail re-built. Working together with all concerned stakeholders to promote Escambia County as a regional manufacturing site. Solving the budget issue for the Civic Center via a recapitalization of that facility to make it a modernized convention center that can adequately hold “Pensacon” type events, as well as conventions and other revenue-generating gatherings that the current Civic Center is too small to accommodate. Working with Community Corrections, the Sheriff’s office, and the Fire Department to enhance public safety, working to make the environment between Volunteer and Career Firefighters in the county better for the benefit of all concerned (and the citizens), fostering and spotlighting Pensacola as an eco-tourism destination, working with the chamber of commerce to diversify our employment sectors, working to make our Animal Shelter a no-kill facility.
Audra Carter: As a commission and community, we would seek buy-in from all stakeholders, each faction should thoroughly understand the business plan components. Our commissioners, other elected officials, community and business leaders must completely engage into completely owning a winning blueprint for success.
Step 1 – Design a strategic plan that combines our goals and vision with the total needs of our community in mind. Decide on the best strategies — e-commerce, retail locations, business-to-business, business-to-consumers or combinations thereof — to reach our business objectives. The results will be the benchmarks for our five-year business plan. Develop a time – table set for evaluating our progress against these benchmarks.
Step 2 – Prepare an executive summary. Establish a clear outline of our goals, objectives, strategies and our expertise needed in achieving the results of each project.
Step 3 – Display diverse talent in our management team. Like a resume, management team biographies increase the credibility of our executive summary and all projections that follow. If you are a one-person management team, be sure to emphasize all pertinent skills. Start with assessing our local leadership skills before going to “outsource” these functions, and be accountable for explaining the use of other experts we are considering.
Step 4 – Describe the products or services our area clearly offers, in detail. We have to know who we are in order to sell us to anyone!. We must first be realistic about, the here and now, in order to move our vision, goals, and objectives forward. This must be a unified effort within business, community and leadership. We must clearly know, what makes us unique, establishing sound reasons for our ” unique selling position”, making sure our position is currently viable. We must be fluid enough to will react to future challenges in the market.
Step 5 – Create financial projections for the next five years. Include income statements, balance sheets, and cash flow estimates. For years one and two, show Income and cash flow Statements on a monthly basis. Use quarterly projections for years three through five. While we must expect few major changes, we must examine, review and look for indicators of potential challenges in spending.
Jesse Casey: Improve customer service, restore public trust and confidence, economic development, improvement of Escambia County’s infrastructure. I am committed to being the hardest working County Commissioner that Escambia has ever had.
A. Develop a Strategic Plan for Escambia County that includes input from ALL aspects of the community.
B. Take a portion of the funds dedicated to economic development and reinvest them in local businesses. This would create instant job growth at a low cost of additional employee acquisition.
C. Create a Masterplan for OLF8 and the surrounding areas including the Bluffs in District 5.
D. Develop the technology and knowledge based industries of Escambia County to become a significant economic factor in our community. We should be the Silicon Valley of Cyber Security and Cyber Technology.
E. Protect our area military bases. This includes planning for their growth both on the ground and in air rights.
Mirza Ahmad: I want to make Escambia County great as a model of excellent prosperity. I want to: 1. Decrease unemployment 2. Economical and Industrial Development 3. Higher education opportunity 4. Technical and trade skills opportunities 5. Promote tourism
1. Increase jobs
2. Increase graduation rates
3. Enhanced Infrastructure
Steven Barry: Generally, a five-year plan to me means that Escambia County will be a better place to live, work, play, and raise a family than it is today. I hope to continue to have a positive impact on that vision. Specifically, in five years there are a number of infrastructure projects in District 5 I hope to see completed, or at least nearly completed:
1. Four-laning of Nine Mile Road
2. Major improvements on Muscogee Road from Highway 29 to the Alabama state line
3. Major improvements on Old Chemstrand Road from Ascend to Highway 29
4. Major improvements on Quintette Road from Highway 29 to the Santa Rosa County line, and the realignment of the intersection of Highway 95A and Quintette Road
Danny Smillie: More local business, cleaner county, less crime and better roadways.
Economic Development Issues
Q9: What role should county government take in attracting new businesses to the area? Be specific.
Jeff Bergosh: We should work closely with the existing state and local economic development entities as well as with the chamber of commerce to identify those employers who could be brought to Pensacola. Tax incentives should be considered when appropriate (as was the case in the Navy Federal Credit Union relocation), and we should incentivize the expansion of existing employers who are already located in Escambia County.
Audra Carter: Economic Development can grow with the correct or appropriate involvement of county government. The role of county government would be oversite of assets of the county; to develop the overall mission, objective and vision for economic development and to select a committee and/or advisory board of private and public expertise to be intimately involved with its growth. However, county government would not be involved to an extent of micromanagement, which could cause unnecessary stagnation. Instead, it would exercise proactive foresight that directs Escambia County toward a thriving community full of hope, change, action toward prosperity for our community. Part of doing that is attracting new businesses to the area. Always recognizing that we want to maintain our identity, always looking forward to perpetual cycles of economic growth.
While there’s no magic bullet or set process that will work everywhere, the items or bullets below illustrate several successful tactics that our county government could consider, or methods to explore, which have been successful in other communities:
-Understand, evaluate, identify and build on existing assets. Identify the assets that offer the best opportunities for growth and develop strategies to support them. Assets might include natural beauty and outdoor recreation, historic downtown’s, or arts and cultural institutions.
-Engage all members of the community to plan for the future. Engage residents, business owners, and other stakeholders to develop a vision for the community’s future. Stakeholder engagement helps ensure plans reflect the community’s desires, needs, and goals and generates public support that can maintain momentum for implementing changes through election cycles and city staff turnover.
-Take advantage of outside funding. Even a small amount of outside funding applied strategically to support a community’s vision and plans can help increase local interest and commitment in the area and spur private investment. Create incentives for redevelopment, and encourage investment in the community. Make it easier for interested businesses and developers to invest in the community in ways that support the community’s long-term priorities.
-Encourage cooperation within the community and across the region. Cooperation to achieve jointly established priorities helps leverage the assets that each party can bring to the table to make the most of the region’s resources.
-Support a clean and healthy environment. Invest in natural assets by protecting natural resources and cleaning up and redeveloping polluted properties, which makes productive use of existing transportation, water, and utility infrastructure; increases the tax base and employment opportunities; removes environmental contamination, and helps spur investment in surrounding properties.
Jesse Casey: Utilize the sources we already have at hand and reach out to surrounding areas and see what they are doing to be successful. Go out and recruit new company’s and offer incentive packages to bring their company’s to our area . When they agree to relocate don’t abandon them at the door but walk them through the complete process.
Karen Sindel: County government has a specific role to play in attracting and retaining businesses. Too often we spend a disproportionate part of our time and resources recruiting new businesses while ignoring the potential growth of expanding our current businesses or working aggressively to retain them. We are not the only ones focusing on poaching some else’s business. Government should focus on both. Further it has to:
a. Have easily understood ordinances and regulations governing the development of new or expansion of existing businesses.
b. Provide user friendly, coordinated, transparent processes to help new businesses explore relocation or existing businesses expand.
c. Help provide the critical services to make our quality of life second to none to enhance employee recruitment and retention.
d. Have an equitable tax base.
e. Be part of the recruitment/retention effort.
f. Have a Strategic Plan so that the businesses, their owners and investors know what to expect from Escambia County as it grows.
Mirza Ahmad: To provide safe environment and business protection with some special financial incentive. Provide technical and trade skills and incentives to inspire entrepreneurs. Offer financial assistance for new businesses, with some conditions to produce jobs.
Lumon May: The county should be out front with my our economic development arm is in providing opportunities and incentives to local and non-local businesses that provide good jobs.
Steven Barry: I agree Escambia County BCC has a responsibility in attracting new business to our area, but we also have a responsibility to allow the businesses which are already here, making payrolls, paying taxes, etc., to thrive. Our major responsibility related to this is to manage the financial affairs of the county in a prudent way, so that we keep taxes and fees low. We also have a responsibility for good, healthy leadership, meaning as five representatives of 300,000 citizens we should be expected to be behave well.
Danny Smillie: Be business friendly. Give exceptions on ordinances to let the business grow. As a result, the business will grow and hire more employees.
Q10: What is your vision for the Outlying Field-8 (OLF-8)?
Jeff Bergosh: I have lived in Beulah, District 1, directly across the street from OLF-8 since 2004. I have witnessed and experienced the growth in Beulah firsthand since that time. As a resident, I would like the traffic infrastructure to be in place before the development of this site, so that we as a county are not playing catch-up as we have on other projects like the NFCU expansion in Beulah. That is #1. Next, I would like to see the plan that has been developed over the last 22 years to be carried out; the 22 year effort does multiple things to benefit the county and the region, and importantly it helps bolster the future of Pensacola as the cradle of Naval Aviation by providing a better OLF in Santa Rosa County (OLFX) while simultaneously allowing Escambia County to take title to the 640 acre OLF-8, which facilitates economic growth for our county while simultaneously serving to enhance and fortify military aviation training in this area. A true win-win scenario. Many jobs locally are tied to this military aviation training, and this land swap could help keep any Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) moves to relocate this aviation training to another state in check. As a 10-year member of the Pensacola Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Committee—I understand full-well the tremendous value and need to keep the military presence in our area. We can help this by sticking with the plan. The concept for a well-designed, visually appealing Commerce Park, with appropriate traffic infrastructure and guided by a well-planned and aesthetically inviting design- will enable medium sized, high-tech and manufacturing companies a centrally located space for their operations. No crushing machines, no smoke-stacks, and strictly enforced building codes, such a park will not only be a jobs generator, this park may also have common areas that benefit the residents of Beulah. In 2005, as a contractor employee aboard NAS Pensacola in the Public Works Department working for Lockheed Martin Information Technology (serving as station Cultural Resources Manager) — I worked collaboratively with the architects, engineers, and planners in-house and a third party contractor from California to develop the Base Exterior Architecture Plan (BEAP) to guide the rebuilding of NAS Pensacola Post Hurricane Ivan. Complex Federal environmental and historic preservation laws (NEPA and NHPA) had to be followed and they were followed, and the lion’s share of this process was completed in less than three years. The same approach that we used then to ensure mission functions were not compromised while construction and Demolition of NAS Pensacola facilities commenced appropriately—this same sort of process ( on a much smaller scale) can and should be used as we begin discussions about the best way to move forward with the OLF8 commerce park project. I favor the idea of having a committee, comprised of two citizen-members from each Escambia County District, hammering out the process of master-planning and setting parameters for the development of this park, with county staff as advisors to the committee and the deputy administrator serving as an ex-officio, non-voting member of this body—as this endeavor should be a decision that is developed with input from stakeholders county-wide, relevant staff, as well as residents of the area. An important thing to remember about plans like this—there will always be voices of opposition. There were many that did not want NFCU coming to Beulah, yet look how important NFCU has become to our area. Many naysayers pooh-pooh projects like the OLF8 Commerce Park project- calling them “pipe-dreams, fantasy, etc.” Such persons would like to see OLF8 remain a big, un-developed wide open space. Such individuals apparently do not apprehend all of the benefits this project brings. I see the benefits. I believe, as we were with NFCU, we must be bold, decisive, and deliberate as we move forward with the OLF8 project, as I believe it, combined with the Bluffs project which will occur within the next 10-15 years, will help enable more students that graduate locally to find good paying jobs locally rather than having to move to larger cities to find opportunities. We need to keep the talented students that graduate here and want to stay here—we need to do what we can to enable this and everyone will benefit.
Audra Carter: This project could and would definitely benefit the Navy and Pensacola/Escambia County at large. At the appropriate time, I would bring in a team to develop a world-class business plan and serious investors who would get involved in a significant way.
Jesse Casey: Job creation. I would like to see a minimum of 12 jobs per acre.
Karen Sindel: I have publicly advocated for over six months the need for a Masterplan. The 640 acres known as OLF-8 (outlying landing field 8) have been under consideration for a future commerce park and the County is proceeding with fulfilling the Navy’s requirements for the replacement site it acquired in Santa Rosa County. A Masterplan will provide the community with an opportunity to express their voice in the most significant major project of a decade. We do not need another Ellyson Field. We need to create a venue that encourages smart, clean economic growth and good paying jobs. With the explosive growth in the Beulah area, a Masterplan would provide guidance regarding OLF8, the Equestrian Center and the surrounding community. We need to know where the amenities will be located (shopping, medical, schools, housing, road, water and sewage, drainage, power,) as well as the impact on existing residents and businesses.
OLF-8 has the potential of providing the largest job growth our community will experience for the next 20 years. There needs to be a strategic plan for its highest and best use for now and the future, and the citizens need to be part of developing that plan. In the meanwhile, once the Navy has departed, why not allow this land to be used for the Beulah Sausage Festival; outdoor festival events; the RC modelers; and other community based opportunities.
Mirza Ahmad: It seems Escambia County agreed to swap the land located in Santa Rosa County in exchange of land located at Nine Mile Road. It is a good deal for Escambia County.
Lumon May: Manufacturing jobs and jobs that provide high wages to the average citizen.
Steven Barry: OLF-8 represents tremendous potential as an economic development project. I am, and have been, very supportive of the project. Now that we have a signed agreement with the Navy related to the eventual land swap I hope we will begin to develop a master plan for exactly what it will be, in terms of the development infrastructure on the ground.
Danny Smillie: [No answer]
Q11: What should the county do with excess properties that it owns? Be specific.
Jeff Bergosh: Sell them for the highest price possible and divest themselves of these properties.
Audra Carter: Lease with the option to purchase to corporate, institutional or municipality buyers Sell outright to qualified corporate, institutional, individual and/or international buyers Build income producing medical, educational, housing and/or rehabilitation projects.
Jesse Casey: Utilize the excess properties as incentives and entice new businesses to come to Escambia County.
Karen Sindel: Sell them according to the County’s needs as projected in its Strategic Plan and the County’s compliance requirement for the sale of excess property. All government should do the same; place excess property back into private hands for development that will add jobs and expand our tax base.
Mirza Ahmad: Excess properties should be sold, if someone wants to buy.
Lumon May: Residential properties should be use to get builders to provide workforce housing particularly in blighted neighborhoods. Commercial property should be use to encourage development groups and companies to provide high wage jobs.
Steven Barry: All the vacant or undeveloped property the county owns should fall into only two categories; First, a memorialized written intent or rationale exists, so there is a clear use or need for the parcel. Alternatively, there is no defined intent for the parcel now, or in the near future, and we should divest the parcel.
Danny Smillie: Keep the property if it can be used for county improvements. Sell the property if it can not be used for a good purpose.
Q12: Tourism is an integral part of Escambia County’s economy. In what ways can the county commission support tourism in Escambia County? Be specific.
Jeff Bergosh: Tourism is vital to our area, particularly in the summer months and during the spring and fall. First of all, Escambia County should support the current DMO concept, as the structure has proven to be very efficient and successful. Secondly, we should focus on building our off-peak season tourism—which I know we are already attempting to do. Winter months are extremely slow and if new events can be added that are not dependent on beach weather, then we should work to bolster December and January with events to bring people down to Pensacola in these months to round out and attempt to flatten the seasonal curve in visitor numbers. I favor concentrating on regional sporting meets as one example of a type of event we could cultivate; Travel Soccer, Baseball, Football, Gymnastics, and other sports generate revenue for the surrounding hotels and restaurants, and can help make otherwise slow months busier than they would otherwise be.
Audra Carter: Through the use of its POWERS AND DUTIES to provide services to local business, municipalities and special districts that promote tourism. They should include in this process – checks and balances that led to the inclusion of diverse ideas that promote out the box thinking by its leadership – implementation process and accountability of its resources. This can be done through the use of signed ordinances that create rules that impose price controls, require benchmark findings and thorough use of proper procedures.
– Create compliance checks and balance for “Tourist Development Tax”, procedures for levying, authorized use referendums, enforcement in areas of critical state concern and tourist impact tax.
– Explore the utilization of project facilities, general powers and duties, general obligation bonds; revenue bonds creatively to facilitate acquisitions of facilities from municipalities and explore the usage of the Ad Valorem Tax.
– Look at special assessments levied on recreational vehicle parks regulated under Chapter 513 to attract industries of interest for economic growth in northwest Florida.
– Use its responsibility as administrative agents to enforce the rules and regulations, exemption from taxation; immunity, development permits, and county-municipality consolidated governments; additional powers to make available creative lease or lease-purchases of property for public purposes.
The County must use its economic development powers with integrity and authority.
Jesse Casey: Financially, and cleaning up the gateway to get to our beaches.
Karen Sindel: Visit Pensacola is doing an excellent job of promoting tourism. The County needs to address any needs/opportunities presented by Visit Pensacola that would assist in their efforts. We also need to study the potential for:
– Sports tourism especially in the shoulder seasons to the summer; we live in an area where sports are year round.
– Medical tourism; we are a regional medical center with national affiliations in specialities like cancer and sports medicine.
– Cultural and Historic tourism; we are the oldest founded city in Florida and have opportunities for history buffs to enjoy research on land and underwater. Plus we have a diverse cultural history that includes our periods under the rule of Great Britain, France and Spain.
– Culinary; we have a unique cuisine and have 5 celebrity chefs who have been invited to the James Beard House for a record number of times.
– Conference / Convention Center. The Bay Center is a drain on the Tourism Development Tax revenue used to pay it’s annual $1.3 million operating deficit. The Bay Center is almost exclusively for the benefit of our citizens without any material tourism economic development benefit.
– Utilizing some LOST funds for tourism related infrastructure like beach renourishment or Pensacola Beach traffic congestion. Visitors to Escambia County account for 35% of the LOST revenues and part of that should be reinvested in enhancing and expanding tourism and its related economic impact on restaurants, bars, grocery stores, gas stations, and related service providers.
– Expanded use of the Equestrian Center.
Mirza Ahmad: Tourism is an integral part in financial development. We can improve tourism without spending a lot of money by using private sector and donations. I have some plans to improve tourism like shopping mall, amusement park (water park), museum (cultural & educational).
Lumon May: I think the county has been a great partner with tourism industry. I think that we can continue to provide good infrastructure and a clean and attractive county so that our visitors will continue to want to visit our county.
Steven Barry: Tourism is certainly important, and from the TDT figures, the tourism industry seems very healthy. We have many instances of issues not working perfectly, so as this is going well, then I support maintaining the current system.
Danny Smillie: Make sure tourists feel safe while here. Make law enforcement visual so they will feel safe. More lighting to brighten up the city. Improve and clean roadways.
Q13: What can the county commission do to support and attract more manufacturing jobs to Escambia County?
Jeff Bergosh: Sell the area, be ambassadors for our County, as a wonderful place to live with an ample supply of workers, recent military retirees, and high-school and college graduates that can help a relocated business grow and thrive. Leveraging the fact that the cost of living is lower here than in most other parts of Florida and the region will also be a beneficial sales strategy. In addition to this, we can and are working to align our workforce development strategies with the local public school district so that when the manufacturing jobs arrive, we will have a ready supply of qualified workers to fill the jobs.
Audra Carter: Continue very attractive tax incentives – to include 1.00 building leases over five and ten-year terms for manufacturers with a minimum employment and ancillary tax base. Public/private partnership program for high-tech manufacturing equipment. A fully “self-contained or self-sufficient industrial park.” An effective and incentivization Job Training Partnership Act. Public/private labor pool transportation facilitation. After school programs to avoid latch-key kids. Effective and growth oriented day care programs. The above can be cost effective and amortized over time – to include locked-in incentives for manufacturing company owners.
Jesse Casey: Reach out with incentive packages.
Karen Sindel: The creation of The Bluffs was a step in providing Escambia County with a true industrial park where future manufacturing companies could be located. Of course, we also have Ellyson Field, which is only partially filled. So you have to ask yourself, if Escambia County has location(s) for manufacturing jobs, a workforce ready for these jobs or to be trained for them, and a strong housing industry that will provide homes for this workforce then why are we not bringing these companies to our community? We spend a lot of money and time, as a community, searching for and recruiting these companies. Could it be that Escambia County will never be able to compete with Alabama or similar states with significant State fund incentive programs? Does Escambia County need money from Tallahassee to provide incentives to these companies?
If the real end game is the creation of additional good paying jobs, are we fishing in the wrong ponds? The economy is moving more into the technology and knowledge based industries. We have five such companies in our area that are consistently in the Fortune 5,000 fastest growing companies.
We have the second most significant cyber security installation in the Country that continues to grow. Perhaps we should be inventorying our existing industry assets and looking to leverage off our existing strengths, which are enhanced by our wonderful quality of life.
Mirza Ahmad: Escambia County is the best location in the world having beautiful white sand beaches, cheerful people, healthy atmosphere and crime free environment. In addition, Escambia County should offer some financial benefits like tax break, or utility etc. in exchange of producing jobs.
Lumon May: Encourage our school district to provide the training that is necessary for our young people to acquire the skill set that is needed in order to be prepared for manufacturing jobs. Secondly we have to continue to let our economic development arm, know how important manufacturing jobs are to promoting a diverse economy.
Steven Barry: The BCC can certainly indirectly attract more manufacturing industry by being good stewards of the resources we have, keeping tax rates low, continuing to be very supportive of all of the economic incentives which are in place currently, and again, behaving well and presenting an image of the type of community where anyone would want to live, work, play, and raise a family.
Danny Smillie: Show that we are a strong, growing county.