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Proposed county funding for Community Redevelopment reduced by more than $6 million

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Pinellas County commissioners Tuesday approved moving forward with a plan that would allocate funding to some of St. Petersburg’s most impoverished areas.

The city is prepared to reduce the amount of monetary contributions from Pinellas County into an already established Tax Incremental Fund by nearly $6.3 million to make that happen.

Under a proposed deal Pinellas County would go from contributing 95 percent of the annual increment to just 85 percent under a planned negotiation between the city and the county.

Those contributions would run through April 7, 2032.

St. Pete currently draws funding for some special projects, including building a new Pier, from what is called Tax Incremental Funding. In a nutshell, a portion of property taxes are earmarked for a specified area known as a Community Redevelopment Area, or CRA.

The reduction in the county’s contribution includes the addition of the South St. Pete CRA, which is currently without a TIF trust fund. So, the city is expanding the amount of area allocated TIF dollars, but reducing the actual funding levels.

In return, the city will get an increase in its redevelopment budget for the Intown Redevelopment Plan to implement parts of the city’s Downtown Waterfront Master Plan. The agreement would allocate an additional $20 million for use on those projects.

That funding, however, would not be new, but rather shifted funding.

The implementation of the Downtown Waterfront Master Plan would likely build on progress made on building a new Pier, a contentious issue within the city.

The plan would allocate more than $8 million to the South St. Pete CRA between 2016 and 2032.

Under the proposed agreement that plan would expire in 2045. That’s 10 years sooner than a previous plan that would have run through 2055.

The city would also agree to sunset its Bayboro Harbor Redevelopment Plan in 2018.

Another plan, Intown Redevelopment West, could also sunset in 2021. However, the city is reluctant to include that in a deal because that area includes the aging St. Petersburg Police Department headquarters that is in line for replacement.

“It’s just too hard to look into the crystal ball,” said St. Pete Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin during a presentation to County Commissioners. “We just are not at that place yet.”

The city hopes to move forward with a plan by the end of June. This is important to the city for several reasons. First, the Southside CRA has been in the works for years.

“Get it done,” County Commissioner Ken Welch said during a meeting Tuesday, referring to the three years that have passed since a report was received showing a need.

The funding plan also allocates money specifically for the Downtown Waterfront Master Plan, which is a key component to planned improvements to downtown as the city readies itself for a new Pier.

But, as the county’s legal department pointed out, it also coincides with the Pinellas County Property Appraiser’s deadline to use fiscal year 2014 as the baseline for projected property values.

Tax Incremental Funding is based on a modest projection of property values over time. As property values increase, the amount of money placed into a TIF trust fund also increases. The baseline serves as a sort of line in the sand and anything above that amount is placed into the TIF trust fund.

If the City had to use 2015 as a baseline, the projected proceeds from the TIF districts would likely be lower.

Pinellas County commissioners seemed largely on board with the city’s current version of a revisited TIF and CRA plan. The board voted unanimously to move forward with the plan, but had some reservations.

Because the timeline is expedited, some commissioners worried something might get lost in the mix.

“I think we all want to move this as quickly as possible,” Commissioner Charlie Justice said. “But if we move too fast we’re going to have something that we didn’t see. I don’t’ want to end up right back where we are.”

“Staff is committed to mitigating that risk,” Tomalin responded, referring to the city’s roll in the process.

In all, the CRA plan is expected to bring in $66.8 million for St. Pete. The county’s contribution is expected to be about $30 million.

The changes to the CRA plan would provide long overdue funding for some of St. Pete’s most impoverished communities including Midtown.

Of the total funding, half would go to business development programs.

Another 40 percent would be used for neighborhood revitalization programs. That could include new housing or renovations of existing blighted homes.

Education, job readiness and workforce development would be allocated about $6.7 million, or 10 percent of the TIF revenue.

“To get folks out of poverty they have to have a job and a lot of those individuals need job training,” Welch said.

The plan also includes regular reviews of programs and is expected to contain enough flexibility to defund unsuccessful programs and replace them with new efforts. That component sat favorably with commissioners.

The best deal for the county, however, is the savings they will get by approving a new plan. And though the deal looks like a loss for St. Pete, which it is, it frees up funding that would otherwise be unavailable for the needy Southside neighborhoods.

And, as Commissioner Janet Long pointed out, “the price tag if we don’t do it could be out of sight.”

St. Pete City Council is scheduled to vote on the issue on first reading at its meeting Thursday. That agenda item is currently scheduled for late in the meeting.

Because the issue also shares space with the controversial vote on the Pier Selection Committee’s final ranking, commissioners asked that the city move the agenda item to first on the agenda, thus bumping the Pier item for later.

Council chair Charlie Gerdes has not responded to whether or not he would be willing to make that change.

 

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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