The Board of County Commissioners acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency met on Tuesday, December 10, 2019 to approve the Community Development Area Plan, as well as adopt the 2020 budget and meeting schedules.
The Agency unanimously approved all of the items, with the modification that the Area Plan be approved without a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) option. The simplest definition of a TIF comes from Wikipedia: “A public financing method that is used as a subsidy for redevelopment, infrastructure, and other community-improvement projects.”
At least ten other funding sources exist in several forms, such as from the gas tax and parks and recreation impact fees. Grant funds could also be applied.
Michelle Miller of the Planning Department presented the long-term plan to the agency, focusing on the goal of Kass Circle regaining a sense of identity and restore community culture. The redevelopment is expected to progress through 2050.
The massive redevelopment plan provides remedies for re-establishing business in vacant commercial areas, providing affordable housing, libraries, and various other community-specific entities to revive the area.
The commissioners were not amenable to the TIF option, citing various reasons and concerns, primarily that the county would be subsidizing the Kass Circle area, and also any increases in costs in the county. The current tax revenue specific to the area was not available at the Tuesday meeting.
Commissioner Steve Champion commended the ideals of the plan, but questioned how it fit with private property rights. “These are a bunch of empty retail (buildings) and restaurants that have been run down, and we’re talking about libraries … can we force anything on these private properties?”
Jeff Rogers explained that Community Redevelopment is an economic tool that is used by local government to identify areas where it would like to see investment back into the area. Business taxes in that area are dedicated directly back to the community, rather than being distributed throughout the county.
Champion returned to the business development aspect, saying, “19 and 50 have taken all the business (from Kass Circle), and it’s never coming back. Ever. I just don’t see it as very viable.”
Ron Pianta also explained that the focus of redevelopment goes beyond the shopping centers. “The area is much larger, and includes the surrounding residential community.” He went on to say that these area residents wish to see the county make the investment in helping that community improve itself.
Pianta acknowledged that the shopping centers are an economic driver for the community as well, however they serve the surrounding residents.
Commissioner John Allocco said he was uncomfortable about the narrow focus on the one area. “The next thing you know, it will be the Hernando Beach CRA, and the Masaryktown CRA … before you know it, all the growth in the community and any tax is going to specified for one specific area in the county.”
Commissioner John Mitten considered the presentation “Very cogent and very well presented.” Impressed by the overall quality, Mitten considered the plan one that would rival that of a large city with ten times the staff. “It’s very easy for us to take a look at a difficult area of the county, and say, ‘Well I don’t live there,’ and then watch funding not always get to those challenged areas.”
Mitten added, “A lot of (items in the plan) would be something an HOA (homeowners’ association) would take care of — that make you take pride and feel good about where you live. There’s no such thing in this area … Do we just let it go, or try to figure out how to make it a better place?”