North Escambia Residents Meet With County’s Top Officials To Discuss Budget

May 21, 2008

North Escambia residents had the chance to learn about county services and upcoming budget cuts and a public District 5 budget meeting held Tuesday night at Highland Baptist Church in Molino.

“We are here to find out what you think we should do with your tax dollars,” County Administrator Bob McLaughlin told those in attendance.

One by one, county department heads explained the services provided by their departments, and took questions.

Janice Kilgore, retiring public safety director, explained that her department is the “department that never sleeps”. Questions for Kilgore during the meeting turned to the upcoming hurricane season.

“How many hurricanes do you think there will be this year that we will have to worry about?”, ” a citizen asked.

“It only takes one,” Kilgore said. “If it comes here, that’s the one. Being prepared now is everyone’s job.”

McLaughlin said the county already has emergency contracts in place for post-hurricane needs like food and debris cleanup, and he said the county is prepared.

Joy Blackburn, county engineer, explained her department’s services. Roads, dirt roads in particular, were the big concern from the public. Dirt road paving is underway on a multi-year plan, she said, with the county getting a little more bang for its buck recently.

“Our prices and our bids are coming in nice,” she said. “We are getting more bang for our buck with the best prices we have had since before Ivan.”

Community Corrections Director Gordon Pike praised the savings his department provides for Escambia County, about $10 million a year.

The county currently spends about $75 a day to house inmates in the county jail, plus provides all of the medical care while they are there. But those that are in the county’s work release programs like the road prison, pay for their own housing and medical care.

One audience member suggesting putting prisoners in tents in a parking lot to save money, but Pike said that would be a legal liability and would likely lead to higher inmate medical bills.”

“You just can’t do that,” Pike said. “Have you ever heard of cruel and unusual punishment?”

As for the recent inmate escapes from the county’s road prison, Pike said “that person should not have been at the Road Prison. Somebody dropped the ball on that one.” He said the screening process for inmates headed to the road prison is the responsibility of the sheriff’s department, not community corrections.

“We know that there is a smarter way to work than what we are doing, and we are going to find it,” McLaughlin said of the county’s cost-cutting efforts.

Some potential ideas the administrator mentioned at the Molino meeting were a switch to cheaper software such as Linux rather than Windows, decreasing the number of county vehicles, outsourcing services such as human resources and more “practical business decisions”. In fact, he said, the county is considering sending 58 county vehicles to the auction block.
One major change McLaughlin said he sees in the next five years in the consolidation of the City of Pensacola and Escambia County goverments into one entity to save funds. The county and city are currently holding joint meetings every two months to discuss that possiblity.

District 5 Commissioner Kevin White was on hand for the meeting, often praising the job done by the department heads in an effort to spend the county’s money wisely.

Pictured above: County Administrator Bob McLaughlin at a county budget meeting Tuesday night in Molino at Highland Baptist Church. The easel boards show the various county departments. photo, click to enlarge. Editor’s note: The “kids” in the background is on a sign for the church’s “kids klub” and was not part of the county’s presentation.


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