FORT WALTON BEACH — Okaloosa County commissioners will form a nine-member advisory committee to help decide how RESTORE Act money should be spent locally.
Commissioners discussed the county’s treatment of RESTORE Act funds during a workshop Tuesday night attended by a large crowd of local business owners, government officials, educators and residents.
County Commissioner Dave Parisot, who briefed the board on the RESTORE Act, said the county must demonstrate that it has a plan in place to keep state and federal officials from “interceding and making decisions for us.”
Although the fines against BP for the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill have not been finalized, the county should begin developing its multi-year plan for how the money will be spent.
“We must press forward with planning activities to be ready when the funds are made available,” Parisot said. Under the RESTORE Act, which was approved last year, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas will receive 80 percent of all the fines levied against BP for its role in the environmental disaster. The eight
Northwest Florida counties directly touched by the oil spill will receive 75 percent of Florida’s share.
For example, if BP were assessed $10 billion in fines, Okaloosa, Walton, Santa Rosa, Escambia, Bay, Gulf, Franklin and Wakulla counties would receive about $420 million. Of that total, Okaloosa County’s share would be about $63.9 million.
The RESTORE Act requires that every county establish an advisory committee and distribute its funds according to specific rules set forth by the U.S. Treasury Department.
Under a tentative consensus, Okaloosa commissioners decided that its advisory committee will include representatives from cities, education, economic development, chambers of commerce, the lodging and tourism industry, the seafood and fishing industry and environmental protection.
Committee members will be selected by the commissioners through an application process except for the city representatives, which will be selected by the Okaloosa County League of Cities, and the economic representative, which will be chosen by the Economic Development Council of Okaloosa County.
Commissioners are set to approve the committee’s structure at its Feb. 5 meeting. The board also will discuss whether to hire a company to help guide the county in allocating the RESTORE Act money or use a new contracted staff position.
Most of the commissioners voiced support for hiring a consulting firm to help develop its spending plan.
When Commissioner Nathan Boyles noted that a staff position might be cheaper, Commissioner Kelly Windes said that shouldn’t be the county’s top concern approaching the RESTORE Act funds.
“This is not the time where you want to try and save a penny,” Windes said.
He said the county was going to receive “so many millions of dollars” that it needs to have a national firm with the proper expertise to oversee the distribution.
County Administrator Jim Curry told the board the RESTORE Act money will present a challenge for the county.
"I think this is a major event that is going to take place in our community,” said Curry, who added that it would be smart to “bring in some expertise to help us craft a plan.”
Contact Daily News Staff Writer Kari Barlow at 850-315-4438 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @KariBnwfdn.