By Lidia Dinkova of TCPalm
December 30, 2015
Martin County and Stuart are at odds over the city’s proposal to grow its redevelopment area: The county says it would lose money from the expansion but the city disagrees.
Stuart wants to add 649 properties, spread over 387 acres, to its existing Community Redevelopment Area.
“The increase in the boundaries means the county would be paying more moneys into the city’s CRA,” said Taryn Kryzda, county administrator.
The county would be paying an additional $300,000 to $1.2 million annually if the CRA grows, records show. It paid about $765,000 in 2015.
Stuart, however, has a different take: The county won’t lose property-tax revenue it’s already collecting.
The Stuart CRA would collect 95 percent of new, or incremental, property tax revenue. The rest — 5 percent of the incremental increase as well as the base property tax revenue, or revenue the county is already getting from that area — would still go to the county, the city says.
“If the CRA succeeds, the county will end up with more money than it is receiving now,” City Attorney Michael Mortell said.
The taxable value for the areas up for CRA inclusion has decreased 13.78 percent between 2010 and 2014, city records show.
“However, by placing them in the CRA, it is the city’s desire to focus on them and hopefully they will turn around,” Mortell said.
Frank Schnidman — an attorney, professor of urban planning and community redevelopment and the M. DeGrove Eminent Scholar Chair in Growth Management and Development at Florida Atlantic University — criticized the city’s CRA expansion plan.
“The main purpose of the boundary expansion is to hijack incremental revenue growth — from the Martin County property-tax general fund as well as the city of Stuart property-tax general fund — and apply the money to CRA projects that are basically economic-development in nature,” Schnidman said after reviewing the city’s report on the proposed expansion.
Over the years, the city has lost money to the county when the county stopped paying the city a $350,000 annual gas-tax distribution and when the county started using impact fees generated within Stuart for projects outside the city, Mortell said.
And, he added, it would be “insulting” for the city to call this a “cash grab” by the county.
“Just as it is insulting for Mr. Schnidman to call this (CRA growth) a cash grab,” Mortell said. “The city is sincerely interested in revitalizing neighborhoods in need within the parameters of Florida law,” he said.
WHO HAS CONTROL?
Don Paight, executive director of the Fort Myers Community Redevelopment Agency, agrees with the city in that Martin County won’t be losing taxes it’s already getting from property owners in the area up for CRA inclusion.
“The impact is really minimal to the county because they might not have received any increase in (taxable property) values unless the redevelopment area actually occurs,” he said.
University of Florida adjunct professor of land use law Thomas Hawkins said the issue here is not so much the money, but who has control over it.
“The CRA gains a little bit more control, the city loses control and the county loses control,” said Hawkins, a land-use and local-government attorney and member of the Gainesville CRA.
The County Commission on Tuesday is to discuss this issue; the City Commission on Jan. 11 is to discuss issues the county has raised.
The six areas proposed for CRA inclusion meet state requirements, in part because some properties use septic tanks rather than sewers; there are dilapidated buildings and boarded-up, abandoned houses; crumbling roadways; abandoned cars; and dead-end streets.
The county, on the other hand, has pent-up maintenance needs of about $258 million for maintenance of roads, stormwater pipes, sewers, parks and other infrastructure.
Still, Martin County and Stuart might not necessarily be in conflict over the money, County Commissioner Doug Smith said.
“The question is, ‘Where does the city see that money going?’ And if it’s going to benefit all the county residents with infrastructure and roadwork that needs to be done, or water and sewer that needs to be done, drainage that needs to be done … then maybe that, by and large, is helping the county,” he said. “If that’s where the money is going to go, that’s good. But I don’t know.”