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State of Florida cities are good for economic growth, new study says

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North Florida is on the right path of economic growth, says a new “State of the Cities” survey released Thursday by the Florida League of Cities.

A combination of high-quality local services, lower property taxes and drawing new business made the difference for Northwest Florida and around the state to maintain positive economic growth in 2014, according to the annual report produced by the League’s Center for Municipal Research and Innovation.

“An important part of our continued growth over the past year was no secret – slow but steady was the approach to sound municipal government,” said League President Matt Surrency, who serves as mayor of Hawthorne. “Florida’s growing population requires that municipal governments be responsive to the citizens they serve, and we are ensuring that our residents, new and old, will remain here for years to come.”

Among the insights in the report: the amount of statewide, municipal property taxes fell by more than 3 percent in the 2012-13 fiscal year over the previous year, a minimum of four straight years of overall declines in municipal property tax collections.

Researchers also noted that a majority of building permits issued by cities around the state were in smaller communities, not big urban areas. Of 113,426 municipal building permits issued in 2012-13, 52 percent of them were in towns with fewer than 60,000 residents.

More than half of the smallest cities – populations of fewer than 5,000 – used community redevelopment agencies to help bolster both population growth and public projects. Many cities worked offered expedited permitting, providing further incentive for growth.

Other data points to areas of improvement, particularly for smaller communities.

For example, cities with smaller populations were discovered to be far less likely to provide economic development incentives: only 60 percent of municipalities with fewer than 60,000 people utilized incentives of any kind. In comparison, 94 percent of cities with greater than 60,000 persons offered incentives.

Additionally, job incentives, offered in over half of larger cities, were available in only 12 percent of smaller ones.

On average, property taxes make 17 percent of cities’ revenue stream. While populations grew by an overall 3.3 percent – helping to pay for public services – at the same time, property tax collections fell 3.12 percent.

As a result of this population growth, nearly two-thirds of municipalities could afford to give raises to their staff, the rest were able to hold staff pay steady.

Water remains a critical issue nationwide, and the report notes that Florida is at the forefront for providing quality-of-life amenities for citizens. Sixty-five percent of cities offer water services for residents, slightly down from the 69 percent of the previous year. Two of five cities provide water or wastewater services to other jurisdictions.

Florida cities also lead in providing municipal services. One in 10 cities offers a health clinic for its employees, and a few provide electric and natural gas services. Most cities — 85 percent — provide solid waste collection, with 72 percent providing recycling.

In housing, 76.1 percent of 113,426 building permits issued in Florida cities for 2014 were residential, and a majority were for building single-family units. Multi-family units accounted for more than 35 percent of permits in smaller municipalities – those with fewer than 5,000 people – whereas it was only 25 percent in the towns with populations of more than 60,000.

Tourism and the outdoor lifestyle continues to be the cornerstone of Florida communities: 91 percent of cities provide municipal parks, many have beach access points and another 17 percent have a city-run marina.

Florida’s population – more than 19 million people — was evenly divided between cities, towns, villages and unincorporated areas. Sunshine State cities also vary considerably, from Jacksonville, with more than 800,000 residents to Weeki Wachee, with fewer than 10.

The full State of the Cities report and results of the 2014 CityStats Survey are available online.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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