The following is condensed from a letter Dr. Thomas Campanella, an elected member of the Santa Rosa Island Authority, and I wrote for Sens. Nelson and Rubio.
Politicians who support the bill to privatize Santa Rosa Island want the federal government to bail them out of a double-taxation problem created when the Escambia County property appraiser broke promises the leaseholders received when they first occupied their leased property.
If the intent of Senate Bill 1073 is fair taxation, the straightforward action would be for the relevant Escambia County officials to abolish or exempt collection of the second tax. Changing the legal structure invites unintended consequences, particularly for private development unfettered by a publically vetted master plan that doesn’t exist to ensure the public benefits.
An area for private development appears to be Pensacola Beach residential areas, where code enforcement officials tolerate private landscapes that block public rights of way and misleading signs that deter visitors from parking legally on roads adjacent to leased property. Your bill would embolden this privileged attitude and attract developers seeking to combine properties and otherwise induce county commissions with shortsighted revenue schemes.
The lack of a publicly vetted development plan for a barrier island is reckless. The shortfall calls into question Escambia and Santa Rosa authorities’ stewardship of natural resources and their commitment to public oversight of developer designs. Under these circumstances, the bill’s “in perpetuity” protection clauses are empty words undermined by broken promises and unsupported by facts on the ground.
Phil Ehr, Pensacola
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