Commissioner Calls I-10 Project Massive Give Away For Developers

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"I can't look the citizens in the eye and try to sell a sales tax when I'm giving a massive giveaway to a land owner," said Tallahassee Commissioner Scott Maddox.

Maddox talked about a proposed I-10 interchange at a city commissioners retreat to discuss the Sales Tax Committee projects.

The $47-million plan calls for Welaunnee Way to be extended from the south to ultimately hook up with Shamrock to the north.

An I-10 interchange would be built in between.

It's all to help relieve traffic congestion on Thomasville Road currently running at 85 percent capacity.

As it stands now, the landowners for the property north of I-10 have agreed to provide a right of way for new roads, a park and say they don't want to develop the property.

Maddox isn't buying it.

He estimates if the road are put in, it will increase the property value 100 times and make it a perfect spot for restaurants and hotels.

"I'm okay with that, I just think the public ought not to pay for that, that there ought to be a provision," said Maddox.

"In 2002, that was put with the comprehensive plan," responded Commissioner Nancy Miller. "So this isn't an idea that just popped up yesterday to benefit this person or that person," she said.

Maddox has another concern.

By opening up the interchange, he believes it will push more traffic right through the middle of the Killearn neighborhood including the roundabout connecting Shamrock with Killarney Way.

He says those neighborhood roads aren't designed for heavy traffic.

"I just don't think that's the best idea," Maddox said.

"There's no question as indicated by Commissioner Ziffer that we will need the interchange," said Tallahassee Mayor John Marks. "How we get there is going to be the issue that we have to discuss," he said.

Commissioners are expected to vote on their overall plan for the $756-million in sales tax money, including the I-10 project, at an upcoming meeting.

City and county commissioners are expected to meet before a final decision is made about the sales tax money.

The idea is to approve the plan in time for the sales tax referendum to be put on the ballot this November.

There's a new push to change how more than $750-million Leon County tax dollars will be spent in the coming years.

The county commission voted Tuesday to modify a plan put together over a two year period.

Specically, the commission voted to alter the economic development part of the plan.

Tallahassee's Madison Street already has new businesses.

And there will be more new ones for that Collegetown area.

Head east to the end of the "Madison Mile" and there are other plans.

Florida State wants to renovate the Civic Center.

The plan also includes a convention center,hotel and retail district.

All of it has a total price tag of $260-million.

"This could be a major impact to our economy," said Leon County Commission Chair Kristen Dozier.

The Leon County Commission agrees with a plan to use $20-million from sales tax money to help with that project.

The Sales Tax Commission included that money as part of nearly $91-million to set aside for economic development.

While County Commissioners agreed with that money, they trimmed other economic development projects and are proposing to spend
$75-million plus.

They want to take the remaining $15-million and create a Liveable Infrastructure for Everyone or LIFE fund for Leon County's rural area.

"There are life safety issues, there are flooding issues, there's access issues."

After two years of meetings, the Sales Tax Commission's roughly
$91-million economic development proposal represents 12 percent of the $756-million of tax money spending.

The county's proposal means 10 percent would be spent on economic development.

"If this were a race car, I'm not changing the engine out, I might put a little pin striping on it," said Leon County Commissioner Bryan Desloge.

The Tallahassee City Commission will now take a look at the total
$756-million sales tax plan.

They will then meet with their county counterparts before a final decision is made.

After the Leon County Sales Tax Committee laid out a road map for spending about $750-million over the next five years, Leon and Tallahassee commissioners will take a closer look this week.

In one proposal approved by the committee, the Big Bend Minority Chamber of Commerce wants $6.1-million for a minority and women business investment fund.

The idea is to offer a pool of money to those types of businesses with better lending terms than standard bank loans the businesses haven't been able to get.

"Investment funds are created throughout this country and in places where the communities are thriving," said Chamber founder and chairman Sean Pittman.

Pittman says the government would choose a bank or lending institution to administer the money.

And his group would help business people apply for funds.

"I want to be real sensitive to who's going to be the one making the calls and how that's going to play out," said Leon County Commissioner Bryan Desloge.

Desloge says he's already had several phone calls expressing concerns about the proposal, including from the minority community.

One of them came from long time small business advocate Steve Beasley.

Beasley says he's concerned Pittman's group is only a year and a half old and doesn't have the experience to handle the application process.

Pittman counters his members have hundreds of years of business experience.

"I think people need to be careful of scare tactics that are out there to make you think tax dollars are going into Sean Pittman's pocket," said Pittman.

Pittman says it's up to state and county governments to decide who will administer the money.

While the Sales Tax Committee included the minority fund in its final report, staff members noted there are several similar federal and state programs.

Pittman says they're not working and there's still a need locally.

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