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Will Climate Change Affect County Budget?

Pinellas County officials said they might have to start thinking about the long-term budget impacts of climate change.

Forming the county budget is always a mixture of art and science.

Pinellas County Administrator Robert LaSala says this year's budget is no different. 

"This is like a mosaic," LaSala said at Tuesday's budget work session. "It's made up a lot of pieces … a lot of moving pieces."  

There are definite numbers, such as the millage rate and fee schedules, that county officials can rely on to form the budget. However, many items like potential new state/federal mandates, a stagnant economy and ongoing housing crisis, are things county officials have to regularly brace for. 

As of Tuesday, the county has added another item that could affect future budget forecasts — climate change. 

County budget director Eric Naughton said it might be time for the county to start preparing funding for the potential negative side effects of climate change.

"While climate change is generally viewed as a long-term problem, recent events show that we may already have begun to see an increase in the frequency and intensity of storms such as hurricanes and unseasonable weather," Naughton said in his budget forecast. "Should this trend continue, it might be prudent to consider increasing fund reserves to provide adequate resources to deal with the cost of responding to these events.

"As a coastal community, rising sea levels due to climate change may require expenditures to reconstruct or relocate facilities that are in low-lying areas," Naughton wrote. "At this time, it appears that these costs would not be incurred during the time frame of the (10-year) forecast."

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LaSala said climate change is a discussion starting to occur at "federal, state and local levels throughout the United States."

While Tuesday's talk of climate change was not a proposal or recommendation from county staff to the Board of County Commissioners, it was received positively by council. 

Commissioner chair Ken Welch said he is glad the county is beginning to focus on such an important issue. He said if you look at 50- to 100-year sea-level models, climate change will "change the face of Pinellas County and the state of Florida."

"I think it is appropriate for us to add it in here in the long run," Welch said. 

"Meet with the (county) property appraiser and go through her slosh modeling," said commissioner Karen Williams Seel. "If you run that model you will see, in a major, major storm, there is not much of Pinellas County that will remain dry."

Commissioner Janet Long said the potential impacts of climate change are much greater than just buildings located close to the sea and the county budget. 

"This impacts not just counties and local governments and cities," Long said. "There is a big part of our economy that is also impacted by this issue here."

What do you think, Largo: Should Pinellas County plan for the potential effects of climate change in its budget? Post a comment and join the conversation.

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