Pasco County is set to receive $7.4 million as its share of an $18.7 billion federal and multi-state settlement with BP Oil for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
The payout could be a partial answer to the budget woes facing Pasco County commissioners. They have a $1.3 billion proposed budget for 2016, but not enough money to fund all of the county’s needs.
There were plenty of ideas on how to spend the windfall during the commission’s July 14 meeting in Dade City.
Commissioners met in a closed-door session before approving the proposed settlement.
A portion of the settlement, which should arrive within three months, would go for attorneys’ fees.
Commissioners wasted no time in tossing out ideas on how to spend the money.
“Let me give you my ideas,” said Commissioner Kathryn Starkey.
Her suggestions include providing about $3 million to the sheriff’s department and $1 million to parks and recreation. She also wants to spend money on water and sewer projects.
Those ideas came after commissioners spent a long day reviewing next year’s budget, which is set for final approval in September.
During their budget discussion, they heard pleas from Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco for a $6.5 million budget increase primarily to cover pay hikes to his deputies. As it stands now, the budget calls for covering only $2.7 million of Nocco’s request.
Nocco has repeatedly said the funds are critical in making Pasco competitive in salary and benefits with other counties.
Commissioner Mike Wells suggested the BP money could be used to give all county employees a pay raise.
“If it’s 5 percent, that’s great,” he said.
BP recently agreed to what is the largest environmental payout in U.S. history for penalties and natural resource damages. Nearly five years ago, an explosion on the offshore oilrig – Deepwater Horizon – killed 11 people and spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf for months.
Florida will receive more than $3.2 billion as one of five Gulf States that sued BP. Louisiana received the largest amount at $6.8 billion. Other states were Mississippi, Alabama and Texas.
Florida still has pending lawsuits against Haliburton and Transocean.
Pasco is one of about 400 local governments that are included in the settlement agreement.
The city of Tampa agreed to accept $27.4 million in damages. Hillsborough County will receive about $28.5 million, and Pinellas about $9.5 million.
Chairman Ted Schrader suggested the money go into the county’s reserves, at least for a while.
“It’s one-time money,” he said. “I don’t think we should be spending it hastily.”
As commissioners ran down their wish lists, Pasco County Administrator Michele Baker drew a laugh when she said, “We don’t have it yet.”
Published July 22, 2015