BRADENTON -- Bradenton officials Wednesday agreed to move forward with a vote to disband city community redevelopment agencies in favor of one CRA board, which would be made up of the Bradenton City Council.
CRAs receive specific tax increment funds to pay for projects within district boundaries. The primary goal of each CRA is to remove blight through redevelopment.
Existing districts include the Bradenton CRA, which includes the Downtown Development Authority, the 14th Street West CRA and the Central CRA.
Under previous direction from city council, city attorney Bill Lisch drafted an ordinance to dissolve existing CRAs and a resolution naming the council the CRA board. Lisch said the council would make funding decisions based on money available for each district.
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Only Ward 4 City Coun
cilman Bemis Smith has spoken in favor of the Downtown Development Authority surviving the transition, which under the ordinance would be stripped of funding. The DDA was created specifically for the city by the Florida Legislature, and the legislation expires in 2020.
What has not been discussed in public is the future of two paid DDA positions, which encompass about $130,000 in salaries.
There also are two full-time and one part-time paid positions within the CCRA. Those positions could be transferred, consolidated or eliminated, depending on the direction the council takes with the transition.
Smith's "vision" of a unified CRA board is to create an economic development department with a director overseeing the entire city, including the CRA districts.
Three council members said they strongly support the transition: Smith, Ward 3 Councilman Patrick Roff, and Ward 5 Councilman Harold Byrd Jr,, who sparked the debate weeks ago when he told council Bradenton is one of only 15 cities in Florida where the city council is not the CRA board.
The first reading of the ordinance and resolution is expected to take place May 27. Officials set June 24 as the date for a second reading. If passed, CRA boards will dissolve Jan. 1 and the city council will begin conducting CRA meetings.
Ward 2 Councilman Gene Brown said he will not make a decision until he has more information. Ward 1 Councilman Gene Gallo expressed early hesitation but has not indicated his current position.
Should the council vote 3-2, City Clerk Carl Callahan said Mayor Wayne Poston has veto power. Poston strongly opposes the move.
"The problem I have is if you change the role of the CRA, you kill collaboration and deny citizen participation," said Poston, who noted volunteer boards are filled with experts important to the recommendation process. "I fear this move will have a chilling effect" on getting citizens to volunteer for city boards.
Poston said he didn't believe the council offers the same skill set provided by citizen experts.
"I'm ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work," he said. "We're ready and able to take on this task."
Supporters say it's time the council, which makes the final decisions anyway, become more involved with the process, citing frustration over lengthy delays in CRA district improvements.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.