Santa Rosa County Jan. 15 began accepting applications for the first allocation of local RESTORE Act funding – roughly $4.3 million.
District 4 County Commissioner Rob Williamson suggested adding county staff to help manage up to $75 million anticipated for 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill recovery.
In a Dec. 30 email, Williamson asked County Administrator Hunter Walker to add three items to the board’s Jan. 5 meeting agenda: establishing a RESTORE Act Coordinator position; hiring an additional grant writer; and reviewing the county’s RESTORE Act consulting services agreement with Atkins North America, Inc.
Santa Rosa County Grants Director Sheila Harris is the county’s only full-time employee managing grants. In mid-2014 Sheila Taylor, who previously worked in the County Attorney’s office, was re-assigned to Harris’ department, but Taylor also manages the Health Care Responsibility Act (HCRA) program.
“I feel that the workload that (Harris) has is extraordinary,” Williamson said, suggesting the county could potentially miss funding opportunities due to her increased responsibilities with RESTORE funding.
“Hunter and I have talked about Sheila’s workload for a while,” District 5 County Commissioner Lane Lynchard, who has chaired the local RESTORE council since its inception roughly two years ago, said.
Lynchard pointed out Harris has been the county’s main point of contact for RESTORE funding for more than two years. “Always room to bring someone in to assist her with other things she does,” Lynchard said.
“I’m 100-percent on board,” District 2 Commissioner Bob Cole said. “We all know that a (grant writer) costs us money but brings home bacon, so I don’t have a problem with that,” he said.
“A RESTORE Act Coordinator is really what Sheila has been doing,” Lynchard said, noting the county’s multi-year implementation plan (MYIP) will likely be finalized this fall. “At that point, the increase on (Harris’) workload would be exponential,” he said.
In regard to the county reviewing its current RESTORE consultant contract with Atkins, other commissioners didn’t support the idea. At least not yet. Commission Chairman Don Salter said such a move would be premature.
Lynchard suggested revisiting the matter after the expected completion this fall of a required county MYIP Atkins has been working to facilitate. “To terminate the contract with the consultant that has got us to that point makes no sense to me,” Lynchard said.
“We definitely need to have a RESTORE Act Coordinator,” Santa Rosa County Tourist Development Council member Laurie Gallup said, adding, “I also believe it’s a good idea to review what we’re doing with Atkins and see if there’s a better way to coordinate the money coming our way, especially for us on the south end who were actually impacted.”
“I believe that the majority of money that we get should go to restoring the beaches,” Tim Keohane, president of the Navarre Beach Leaseholders and Residents Association said.
Walker said he would propose recommended staffing changes at the board’s Jan. 20 meeting. Commissioners took no action with respect to the contract with Atkins.
For information on applying for RESTORE funding, visit www.santarosa.fl.gov/bocc/restore.cfm.
As seen in the Jan. 15 issue of Navarre Press. Click here to subscribe for as little as $38 per year.