Bill could bring on vote

Published 10:05 pm Friday, March 15, 2013

Escambia County officials are hoping voters will trust them to do the right thing with an oil and gas trust fund — and use it to help rebuild roads and bridges across the county.

A current legislative bill would set up a referendum vote that would allow the county to borrow money from its own oil and gas trust fund to pay for infrastructure improvements or economic development incentives.

State Rep. Alan Baker is sponsoring the bill that has passed the House and is awaiting Senate approval.

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County commission chairman David Stokes said the county initially hopes to borrow money to pay for a more than $971,000 match for state grants for road and bridge improvements. Escambia County must pay a 20 percent match for the nearly $5 million in state grants, known as ATRIP funds.

But Stokes said the bill is carefully worded to include a schedule to pay the money back.

“We are structuring it so that our payback is in a certain time frame,” Stokes said.

Stokes said the county earns a small return on investment on the oil and gas trust fund — normally only about .5 percent to .65 percent.

The county would repay the fund at a higher rate than that return on investment — but it would still be cheaper than taking out a loan for the funds, Stokes said.

Baker said the bill is forward-thinking on the part of commissioners, not only because it could pay for infrastructure improvements, but also because there is the potential to pay for incentives for industries interested in locating in Escambia County.

If the Senate approves the local bill, it would be put to a vote of county residents. Stokes said the commission wanted voters to be able to approve the borrowing of funds.

County commissioners have not yet determined when that vote could take place if the bill passes.