As we finish up another year, I am pleased to present the Escambia County Annual Report highlighting our ongoing efforts to improve the quality of life for all who call Escambia County home. County staff members work hard every day for citizens, whether it’s answering questions about county projects, conducting neighborhood cleanups to keep debris off our streets or maintaining and upgrading our many parks and community centers throughout the county.
Through it all, we strive to never forget that we work for you – the residents of Escambia County and the Board of County Commissioners. The people of Escambia County are what make it such a special place to live, and we are committed to working together to continue moving our county forward.
This annual report will provide an overview of what our staff members have worked on and accomplished over the past year, giving you as a resident a closer look at how your local government works behind the scenes to meet your needs. While there is always room for improvement, we are proud of the strides we are making to better serve our citizens each day. Below are a few items from this fiscal year that I’d like to highlight specifically.
The commission moved forward on the jail construction when they voted in July 2016 to purchase 14.65 acres located on the southeast corner of Fairfield Drive and Pace Boulevard, commonly known as the McDonald Shopping Center, to be developed as the site of the expanded county jail complex for the purchase price of $4.5 million. The purchase of the property closed on Jan. 13, 2017. The construction of the new jail, barring major delays, is anticipated to be complete by December 2019. Unfortunately, the demolition of the Escambia County Central Booking and detention facility continues to be delayed pending litigation and a potential settlement related to the April 30, 2014 natural gas explosion at the facility. Until the settlement becomes final, the CBD cannot be demolished, as parties involved in the pending litigation and those considering litigation must have the opportunity to access the facility to inspect, test and photograph should settlement negotiations terminate or come to an impasse. It is hoped that a settlement will be reached soon.
In December 2015, former Assistant County Administrator Chip Simmons took oversight of the jail and immediate changes were made to the jail medical policy to ensure inmate safety. Major changes included:
- The jail commander who will now be empowered to make decisions regarding immediate medical facility transports without receiving physician input.
- Greatly improving medical status communication. Now a list of critically ill patients is given to the command staff daily, with each shift providing an end of shift report to include updates on every infirmary patient to the jail commander.
- Contracting with Public Safety Medical Director Dr. Paul Henning to provide interim medical director services until a full-time jail medical director is selected.
- Creating and hiring a Health Services Administrator position who contributes to agency-wide strategic planning, budget development and monitoring, fiscal responsibility, and problem solving for the health services division at the Escambia County Jail. This includes providing clinical expertise, direction and management of the administrative function for the benefit of the health services division.
The Escambia County Jail and Work Release Center again passed both the Florida Model Jail Standards and Medical Unit Inspections in 2016, with inspectors finding no violations.
Tornado Response & Recovery
In January and February, our county was struck by an unprecedented two tornadoes within a month. While we were very fortunate to have no deaths from the storms thanks in part to very accurate forecasting and our residents’ use of smartphone apps and other warning devices, our county experienced over $26.54 million in storm damage. I am extremely proud of our citizens, first responders, emergency management staff, long-term recovery staff and partner agencies and how they worked together before, during and after the storms.
The Escambia County Commission set the goal of helping to ensure every home in the county has a working smoke detector. Fire Rescue held special neighborhood canvasing events as well as fulfilling individual requests. This fiscal year, 839 smoke detectors were installed in homes by firefighters at no charge to residents.
The Escambia County RESTORE Act Advisory Committee approved the ranking of all 124 RESTORE applications in Escambia County, taking a significant step toward selecting projects to be funded by direct component RESTORE funds. The ranking marks the final recommendation from the committee to the Escambia County Board of County Commissioners for the allocation of direct component funds, part of a three-year process undertaken by the committee. Tasked with developing the project selection criteria and being an interface with the public, the Escambia County RESTORE Act Advisory Committee also developed the county needs assessment and reviewed and ranked the 124 project applications received in Escambia County.
Since revoking Rolling Hills Landfill’s permit in 2014, the Department of Environmental Protection was able to get court approval to close the landfill. Working with state contractors, surveyors and landfill closure experts they developed a comprehensive closure design based on current site conditions and the contractor began work in the fall of 2016. A vast majority of the onsite work has been completed. However, weather has caused some delays and the project is expected to be completed in February 2017. Escambia County scientists in the Natural Resources Management Department continue to monitor air quality on a daily basis in the surrounding residential area.
FEMA Stormwater Projects
Three vital FEMA Hazard Mitigation Grant Program projects made significant progress this fiscal year. The awarded grants total more than $8.8 million and will implement long-term hazard mitigation measures to reduce flooding. The projects are typically phased to allow an engineering study, construction plans preparation, permitting, bidding and construction management services. The following projects were awarded funding: Delano Street Area Drainage Project, Lake Charlene Outfall Project and Bristol Park-Bristol Creek-Ashbury Hills Flood Plain Restoration Project.
Fiscal Year 2015/16 marked the first year of county operations of Pensacola Beach Public Works and Lifeguards. It was a great year! I am extremely proud of our beach staff. They have integrated into our work family seamlessly and the quality and pride they take in their work is exceptional.
In July the county launched a newly-designed myescambia.com with a focus on ease of use whether using a computer, phone or other mobile device. Additionally, the site offers greater transparency and citizen access to county information and records, with new information and features continuing to be added regularly.
County government must be open, responsive and respective to our citizenry. While county government is diverse and can be complex, I stand behind the pledge of working to offer effective and efficient services. I want to thank my staff and our commissioners for helping to make progress towards that goal, no matter the challenges, every day. I look forward to more successes in the coming year.
Jack R. Brown