Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board
Dec. 27, 2017
For almost half a century, a Florida law has entrusted county and city governments to set aside a share of local property tax revenues for urban redevelopment. Now this authority, like other powers of home rule in Florida, is in Tallahassee’s cross hairs.
Some state legislators are proposing to impede local governments in creating new community redevelopment agencies, and phase out existing CRAs. While a 2016 report from a grand jury in Miami-Dade County contended there have been abuses of tax dollars in some local agencies, this is overkill from legislators.
We agree with Apopka Mayor Joe Kilsheimer, whose city has created a CRA to revitalize its downtown. “If there are abuses, let’s fix the abuses,” Kilsheimer told the Sentinel. “Local officials have a better understanding of their communities than people in Tallahassee, [and] I’m concerned that Tallahassee is going to throw the baby out with the bath water.”
A state law passed in 1969 allows local governments to create CRAs for blighted urban areas. Then additional property tax dollars generated within a designated area are available to spend on redevelopment to attract additional investment and create jobs that ultimately will boost the local tax base. No new taxes or tax increases are needed. Any projects must be consistent with the local comprehensive plan.
There are 224 CRAs in Florida. Besides the one in Apopka, there are eight others in Central Florida. The biggest covers most of downtown Orlando and the Parramore neighborhood. CRAs have helped bankroll many of the region’s landmark improvements, including Orlando’s sports and cultural venues, the Hannibal Square Community Center in Winter Park and Winter Garden’s downtown makeover. They’ve also been used for lower-profile mixed-use developments, streetscape improvements and affordable housing.
Under a House bill introduced by Tampa-area Republican Jake Raburn, local governments would need the Legislature’s permission to create any new CRAs — a restriction that makes a mockery of the independence and authority vested in local officials by local voters. Also under Raburn’s bill, existing CRAs would be terminated in 20 years unless a super majority of their governing boards voted to continue them.