County officials preparing to divvy BP settlement money
With Pinellas County's $7.2 million pot of BP oil spill settlement money sitting in the bank, the question now is whether to cash it in on one, big legacy project or divvy it up amongst worthy causes.
There is the proposed high-speed ferry between St. Petersburg and Tampa holding its hand out to the county.
Helping Clearwater build a gondola to fly riders over the Intracoastal to Clearwater Beach would be “the definition of something totally extraordinary, out of the box, a one-time opportunity to be transformational,” said County Commissioner Janet Long.
Then there's the chance to support the Tampa Bay Black Businesses Investment Corp., which has asked for funding to support its fostering of small businesses.
To make sure this “once in a lifetime” opportunity is not wasted (as Commission Chairman Charlie Justice put it), the Commission agreed Tuesday to schedule a “collaborative lab” sometime in the next few weeks to hash out the myriad of options.
Justice sketched a four-page syllabus of all the considerations that he passed to his colleagues: What types of projects should be considered? What should be the criteria to judge projects? Should the cash go to one issue, like youth, elderly, arts and culture, transportation, something else?
The questions go on.
Justice expects the collaborative meeting, an informal discussion of the options, to be scheduled within the next few weeks.
What's clear now is just how big of an impact these funds could have, he said.
“I want to mention how unprecedented this is to have these kinds of funds to invest in our community without restrictions, without federal or state tie downs, without previous commitments,” he said. “It's an unusual spot and one that we should take seriously and make wise decisions.”