City votes to continue downtown CRA, focus on infrastructure

Published: Oct. 25, 2017 at 10:31 PM EDT
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By: Mariel Carbone | WCTV Eyewitness News

October 25, 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- The Tallahassee City Commission voted on the fate of the downtown district of the Community Redevelopment Agency, Wednesday. This, after the county voted to withdraw itself from the district, Tuesday.

The city voted unanimously to continue supporting the district, without county support, but restrict its funding to infrastructure projects, eliminating funds for small businesses and major projects. This restriction will apply solely to the downtown district, not to the Southside-Frenchtown district.

Commissioner Scott Maddox led the vote.

"The only thing that I will vote for in the CRA is public infrastructure. Sidewalks, storm water, lighting or things with public access. I think there needs to be a clear public benefit before we approve any tax dollars," said Maddox.

The infrastructure need is clear in the downtown. A presentation by staff showed that there are about $75 million worth of projects needed, including roadwork, sidewalk upgrades storm water infrastructure and more. Having CRA funds will help with the cost.

City Attorney Lew Shelley urged the City Manager to begin negotiations to uncouple the inter-local agreement immediately with the County Administrator, as to prevent any litigation from occurring.

However, it doesn't come without issues.

Under state law, there can only be one CRA board.

Currently, four county commissioners and all five city commissioners sit on the CRA board. That board votes and oversees projects for the downtown and Southside-Frenchtown districts. With the county leaving the downtown district that leaves a few options: the county will either remain on the board, which includes voting power, but only contribute money to the Southside-Frenchtown district; or leave the board entirely, but still contribute financially to the Southside-Frenchtown district, which is how the board was originally constructed back in 2000.

City Planner Wayne Tedder said he recommends the county being removed from the board. He also noted it's not common for county commissioners to sit on a CRA board in general.

Since its inception, the Community Redevelopment Agency has worked on about 280 projects which range from major projects, to infrastructure projects, facade grants, local business grants, event funding and more.

CRA’s oversee designated areas of the community, which are deemed blight or slum. They’re funded through local tax dollars, specifically through tax increment funding. The property value of the area is determined on a fixed date. Then, when property values go up for that area, any tax revenue above that fixed rate goes straight into the CRA fund, which is in turn used to fund projects in the designated CRA area.

Currently three major projects are in the pipeline for the downtown district, which the county has agreed to county to support.