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Wengay Newton warns Tampa City Council about CRA threats

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Brandon-area state Sen. Tom Lee and Lithia Rep. Jake Raburn rankled members of the Tampa City Council earlier this year after they learned of the legislative proposal that would ultimately prevent cities and counties from creating Community Redevelopment Agencies (CRA’s).

While the bill did not make it to Gov. Rick Scott‘s desk, it might next year, St. Petersburg House Democrat Wengay Newton warned Thursday.

“I know that after serving eight years on the City Council in St. Petersburg the value of CRAs,” Newton told the Tampa City Council, which acts as its CRA. “I’m a champion for them, but when they have bad actors … then that becomes chapter and verse for the whole state, and they’ll pass laws to kill them and get rid of them.”

CRA’s hold on to a set percentage of the property taxes paid by residents of a community and then invests that money back into the area.

As motivation for his legislation, Lee cited the mishandling of CRA funds in South Florida, which led to a bill that would have eliminated all of the state’s CRAs by 2037, as well as create additional oversight and reporting requirements for all CRAs statewide.

The City Council was already well aware of the bills earlier this year, which prompted Chair Yolie Capin to contact both Lee and Raburn to ask them to “reconsider.”

Newton told Tampa lawmakers he supported one part of the bill that would allow counties to clawback funds once the blight in the CRA was alleviated. “What that means is that once there’s no more blight, you can’t just be throwing money around because you got it and it’s there,” he said, adding that the council should be “mindful” of their own spending.

“The bill didn’t go anywhere, but I guarantee it’ll be back next session,” he warned.

Councilman Mike Suarez said he appreciated the sentiments from his fellow Democrat, but if Scott knows of malfeasance being performed by CRA boards, he said the governor has the power to remove those members. “If they’re not doing the right thing, have ’em remove those people.”

“If they’re not doing the right thing, have ’em remove those people,” Suarez said.

Capin added that Tampa CRAs have done nothing illicit, and would gladly testify to that in Tallahassee next year if needed.

“I want to offer us up as an example of perfection in CRA,” Capin said. “They can scold Miami-Dade all they want, but you’re looking at a commission that’s been very vigilant.”

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

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