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David McKalip jumps back into Pier debate with more tax consequence fear mongering

in The Bay and the 'Burg by

Controversy surrounding the Pier didn’t go away when the Pier Selection Committee finally issued its ranking for City Council approval. Opinions are still spreading like wildfire and there is still a petition to stop the process dead in its tracks.

And then there’s David McKalip, the brain surgeon who unsuccessfully ran for City Council in 2013 and who loves to bash government overreach and taxation. He calls the Pier process a “classic story of political distraction.”

He hasn’t been heard from much since the ill-fated Lens fell victim to a massive public coup. In fact, he hasn’t tagged anything pier-related on his blog, Sunbeam Times, since April 2013. So why now?

McKalip doesn’t seem to have a preference on a Pier design. In his latest weekend blog post, McKalip didn’t have anything nice to say about Pier Park, but neither did he of the other two runner-up designs. Instead, it’s all about the tax burden.

McKalip suggests, as he did with the Lens debacle, that the city would be better off issuing a long-term lease to a private developer who could spend more money to build on the valuable land without putting the city at risk of financial loss.

But the city can’t do that because of a charter that requires waterfront leases to be no longer than five years. McKalip suggests that too should change.

What’s more interesting, McKalip suggests the entire Pier process is a “con job” to “get the money.”

The city had originally set aside $50 million from its tax incremental fund (TIF) specifically to build a new Pier. Sadly, $4 million of that was whittled away during the Lens process and leaves just $33 million construction budget for whatever gets built as a result of this new process.

McKalip argues the money isn’t “set aside” but is rather a loan based on projected property tax revenue. While he’s not entirely off on describing how TIF works, he’s also making a mountain out of a molehill.

As he correctly points out, the Pier funds come from TIF dollars. Those are calculated and collected based on a Community Redevelopment Area (CRA). In a nutshell, as soon as the CRA is created, any property tax revenue exceeding a certain level is put into a fund for use on projects within that same area.

In 2013 that exceeded $8 million. The money can only be used within the CRA.

McKalip says the funding is a loan subject to interest. He’s partially correct. While the TIF does set aside revenue for projects within the CRA, that funding is used to secure bonds and to pay debt related to those projects.

Where he plays on the fears of unknowing readers is by painting it as some sort of money pit in which taxpayers are overpaying and subjected to unnecessary risk.

McKalip argues if property tax projections don’t turn out to be as high as the city expected, taxpayers could be asked to pay more in taxes to bridge the gap.

The property tax projections used to calculate TIF are extremely conservative. The idea that the city could somehow come out way behind projections is beyond unlikely.

Community Redevelopment Areas and Tax Incremental Funds are used on a regular basis by local governments nationwide to fund major redevelopment projects that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.

The bottom line is, while it is true that the city will use bonds for payments to Pier redevelopment, the $50 million needed to back those bonds are secure. It’s a safe way for the city to fund a large project. If McKalip wants to continue his argument that the city would do better to explore changing the City Charter to allow private development, that’s one thing. But to capitalize on the fears of residents with blown out of proportion information is just simply wrong.

All McKalip is doing here is creating smoke and mirrors within a process that already has too many of each. If there is a political distraction at play, it is his, not the city’s.

As usual, McKalip is using his blog as a pulpit for Tea Party rhetoric that uses scare tactics and fear mongering to beat lesser-informed residents into submission.

By using official acronyms and citing city charters not many people know about, he gives the allusion of being well-educated on city policy and inner-workings. Indeed, McKalip is probably more versed in these things than most, but his real talent lies in his ability to twist a series of truths into an unrealistic version of what-ifs.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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