It’s not the first time a proposed bill in the Florida State Legislature has drawn a leery eye from local municipalities, but House Bill 13 on community redevelopment agencies has local officials up in arms.
Carl Callahan, city administrator, said the bill would tell cities how it can operate its CRAs.
“It basically puts an end to CRAs as we know it,” Callahan said.
CRAs draw property taxes out of selected districts and invest those dollars straight back into those communities with a primary mission of eliminating slum and blight. The bill would not allow for any new redevelopment projects.
If we went into hair-on-fire screaming fits every time Tallahassee went on a rant about doing something, which happens every year, we’d all pull our hair out.
Ward 4 City Councilman Bemis Smith
Vice Mayor Patrick Roff said the bill, as written, would require state legislators to tell Florida residents that “we like slum and blight. They won’t win that fight.”
The bill did make it through the first House committee and there is a companion bill in the Senate.
“This is a knee-jerk reaction to some issues going on in Broward and Miami Dade in the way they have handled their CRA issues,” Callahan said. “This bill is an attempt to go after a couple of folks and throw out the bathwater with the baby.”
The Florida League of Cities is preparing to fight the bill, saying it’s yet another attempt by the state to encroach on home rule. Roff said there is a big difference between the House and Senate bills, “and the Senate usually cleans up the mess of the House. It’s a food fight up there.”
Ward 4 Councilman Bemis Smith said the city shouldn’t overreact just yet.
“If we went into hair-on-fire screaming fits every time Tallahassee went on a rant about doing something, which happens every year, we’d all pull our hair out. We need to watch it, but not go too far in changing our plans.”
But officials indicated that is exactly what they plan to do.
City looks to change path on economic development
In related news, several members of the city council indicated that a two-year search for an economic development director may no longer be needed.
The city has launched two national searches and was expected to pick a new economic development director out of the latest list of candidates. But Callahan said in his discussions individually with council members “no consensus had been reached” on either of the two finalists.
Ward 1 Councilman Gene Gallo said he would prefer to have the position remain “in house. The first feeling I have is we have been doing quite well with the way it’s working now.”
The council was intent two years ago when it pushed for a takeover of the CRA boards to create a new department to oversee the CRAs, as well as citywide economic development opportunities. Ward 5 Councilman Harold Byrd Jr. said the Legislature’s latest move concerns him and that he would support an in-house “restructuring at this time.”
Roff said, “I don’t think that’s a good option. It’s not what we voted on when we started this process and a total deviation from our original plan.”
Gallo said he would make a motion at the council’s March 22 meeting, “to get something done. We are like a soccer coach who plays defense. He wants to kick the ball all over the field, but doesn’t want to kick a goal.”
Smith said Gallo’s proposal would keep “the status quo. Your motion won’t be for something new, it’s affirming what we’ve had for the last 20 years.”