Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Blog Florida

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County considers getting legal help to recover tax revenues

by Louis Cooper • lcooper@pnj.com

Santa Rosa ponders lawsuit in BP oil spill

Santa Rosa County might retain a law firm to pursue compensation in the BP claims process for tax revenues lost following this summer’s oil spill.

While Santa Rosa County Commissioner Bob Cole is confident county staff can do a good job getting compensation from BP, he thinks having lawyers who specialize in getting BP to pay up could be advantageous.

“Is there a stone we haven’t turned over?” Cole said. “These law firms also have the ability to do modeling. What would our tourist development money developed into this year had the spill not happened? What would our tax base have been had this not happened?”

Cole has put the issue on the agenda for the commission to discuss at its committee workshop today.

“How long will it take us to recover? How much will it take in the two or three or four years it’s going to take people to say, ‘Hey, we’ve got the message. The beaches are clean and we’re going to come back’?” he said. “I just don’t want to cut our citizens short.”

florida mapCommissioner Lane Lynchard, himself an attorney, said he thinks the county has legitimate claims against BP.

“The Navarre Beach water and sewer revenues were down significantly due to the oil spill. The tourist development tax was down significantly,” Lynchard said. “There are some outstanding claims the county will need to pursue. Whether or not we need to retain counsel to pursue that will have to wait to be seen. I think It’s worth discussing.”

Assessing the impact will be tricky, according to budget director Joel Haniford. “A problem with even trying to estimate a property value loss that is attributable to the oil spill is the recession,” Haniford said. “It would take a real economist to determine what portion of a real loss is attributable to the general economy and the BP oil spill.”

Cole said he would see any agreement with a law firm being based strictly on contingency. The firm would be paid only if they recover money for the county.

The Santa Rosa and Escambia School Boards have discussed individually seeking compensation from BP on lost tax revenues but have not hired attorneys. The Escambia County Commission has taken no action to retain counsel. The Okaloosa County Commission has discussed the idea, but decided to wait and see how the process plays out without a lawyer.

To date, BP has paid almost every expense related to the spill that Santa Rosa has asked it to cover, according to county spokeswoman Joy Tsubooka. Mostly, that has covered staff time, fuel costs and office supplies. The only reimbursement request denied was $878 for a software upgrade.

Santa Rosa has received $370,852 from BP for expenses incurred from May to July, she said. The county has filed a claim of $37,828 for August and estimates a claim of $8,417 for September.

“Expenses are ongoing but at a reduced scale,” Tsubooka said.

“There will probably be some amount for months to come.”

source: Santa Rosa ponders lawsuit in BP oil spill | pnj.com | Pensacola News Journal

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