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Tampa City Council wants lawmakers to explain bill that would have gutted CRA’s

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

A proposal by Lithia Republican Jake Raburn (HB 13) calling for an end to all community redevelopment agencies (CRA’s) died in a legislative committee in the Florida House last month.

And members of the Tampa City Council are happy about that.

Raburn’s bill didn’t go as far as a related proposal by Brandon Republican Tom Lee in the Senate (SB 1770). That bill would have placed much stricter requirements on CRA’s, but it also stalled in a committee as well.

At Thursday’s Tampa City Council CRA meeting, Councilman Mike Suarez expressed annoyance about the proposal and that Hillsborough County lawmakers never informed them about it.

That prompted Councilman Frank Reddick to suggest that the council invite the two GOP lawmakers to attend an upcoming CRA workshop, so that board members could inform them about all of the positive aspects of what those agencies do for Tampa. The Council voted to hold that workshop on August 10.

CRA’s are geographic areas that meet certain physical and economic conditions and thus receive special designation and attention by local governments. That usually results in receiving tax revenues from increases in real property value, referred to as “increments” that are deposited into a CRA Trust Fund and dedicated to the redevelopment area.

Historically they were created to focus attention and resources in a particular area characterized by blight and disinvestment. But a 2015 Miami-Dade grand jury report from 2015 came down hard on local CRAs, saying that they acted almost like a “slush fund” for the elected officials who were in charge of doling out millions in property taxes diverted from general revenue for the purpose of eliminating slum and blight.

“Some of these CRA’s around the state are an absolute embarrassment to me as a public official, and as someone who really believes that there ought to be an opportunity to direct some of this revenue into blighted areas to help improve the living conditions of the people who live there,” Lee commented at a Senate committee discussing the bill last month.

Tampa has seven separate CRA’s. St. Petersburg has four, with more than 200 overall in Florida.

“This is both alarming and disturbing that this was even brought up at the state level for CRA’s,” said Councilman Guido Maniscalco.

Councilman Harry Cohen applauded the move, but said that city also needed to be concerned about the Legislature’s approval of a 2018 voter referendum that would increase the homestead exemption by another $25,000, which would effectively cut local property taxes and make a major negative impact to cities and counties throughout the state who rely on those taxes to fund their governments.

“Whatever guests that are coming to the City Council this year from the Legislature, I would also talk to them at the same time about why they view it as being a good idea to take more money out of the hands of local governments,” Cohen said.

Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill told the Tampa Bay Times this week that the county could lose as much as $30 million annually if the measure is approved by the voters next year.

 

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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