Getting to the 'yes' with CRAs doesn't mean it's business as usual

 
Deb Denys / Headline SurferBy Deb Denys
Deb's District
Exclusive blog for Headline Surfer 
from dist. 3 county councilwoman
 

Badcock Building in New Smyrna example of smart CRA funding / Headline SurferCRA funds pay for public drinking on Flagler Avenue / Headline SurferRestoration of the former Badcock Building on Canal Street and US 1 in New Smyrna Beach is an example of the kind of worthwhile CRA project county officials want to see. Alcohol-fueled street parties on New Smyrna Beach's Flagler Avenue are the types of CRA abuses the county wants to see end. 

DAYTONA BEACH -- The County Council last week voted unanimously to continue the countywide discussion regarding Community Redevelopment Areas (CRAs) for an additional 60 days.

The main goal of this continuance was to ensure that all stakeholders involved, the county and municipalities have accurate information and the ability to voice their concerns and opinions.

Slowing down the process of government is not always the best option, but in this instance, all stakeholders have the ability to present their case.

That being said, I am concerned by the amount of inaccurate information that I’ve heard as it relates to CRAs. The rumor mill is spinning full tilt on this issue from both sides and I’d like to take this opportunity to clear up any inaccuracies and lay out the issue as I see it.

Getting to “yes” does not mean it is business as usual.

Getting to “yes” does not mean it is business as usual.

With the authority delegated by the County Council, each of our 16 cities have the ability to create a CRA with the intention of increasing property value by generating more tax revenue in a blighted area as determined by Florida Statues, Ch. 163.

These CRAs are funded by annual property taxes collected partially from respective municipalities and partially from the county.

In 2012 for instance, CRAs received $10 million, $5.7 million of which came from the county. Most of us live within a certain municipality, but "all of us" live in Volusia County, the main funding source for CRAs. The real question is how effective have current CRAs been?

Since 1982, over $80 million has been used to fund CRAs from the county alone with another $144 million projected through 2036. What did we as a County get for this $80 million?

Could this money or parts of it have been spent in other more beneficial ways? The problem is that we don’t know the answer to these questions.

Currently, once a CRA is created, the county has very little oversight on how that money is spent nor do we have much say on what it is spent on. Essentially, in the past creating a CRA has been tantamount to writing a 30-year blank check payable to the city to be used for redevelopment projects as the city sees fit. The proposal currently before the County Council would give the county more oversight of how the money is spent and would only disburse funds for value created specifically by the CRA’s redevelopment efforts.

Currently, once a CRA is created, the county has very little oversight on how that money is spent nor do we have much say on what it is spent on. Essentially, in the past creating a CRA has been tantamount to writing a 30-year blank check payable to the city to be used for redevelopment projects as the city sees fit. The proposal currently before the County Council would give the county more oversight of how the money is spent and would only disburse funds for value created specifically by the CRA’s redevelopment efforts.

As your county councilwoman, it is my job to make sure that your tax dollars are spent prudently and with a level of accountability. In this light, it makes me very uncomfortable to take money generated from all taxpayers in the county and earmark for a subset without oversight and restrictions on expenditures. 

On the other hand, CRAs when utilized properly are an effective tool to fight economic depreciation, so therein lies the balance.

The county is working hard to provide municipalities with other tools for development.

Recently, the county absorbed all the 9-1-1 Dispatch costs for every city and allowed each municipality to keep the cost savings created by consolidation of services.

This windfall of dollars to the cities was known well in advance and as a line item in their budgets, now has disappeared, with the county absorbing all of the costs. This windfall to the municipalities ranges from $16,000 to over $1.5 million each and every year!

If a city committed $500,000 of this annual windfall and bonded those dollars, this annual savings could now generate well over $15 million. Going forward with the discussion of accountability, this cannot go unanswered.

If a city has a goal and priority of cleaning up a blighted area or to create development, how much of this new windfall has been designated and set aside?

As it so happens in local government, there are no easy answers because one size does not fit all. That is why as a council, we voted for a 60-day extension on this complex issue. During this time, everything is on the table, and we will look at how we can strengthen our redevelopment toolbox in a way that restores integrity to the county’s budget.

As it so happens in local government, there are no easy answers because one size does not fit all. That is why as a council, we voted for a 60-day extension on this complex issue. During this time, everything is on the table, and we will look at how we can strengthen our redevelopment toolbox in a way that restores integrity to the county’s budget.

I personally welcome the free flow of new ideas and am open to any and all suggestions as to how we can maintain our CRA efforts in a fiscally responsible manner.

Yes, to accountability. Yes, to county contribution for capital expenditures only. Yes, to fiscal responsibility. Yes, to dollars only from the general fund and not funds such as hospital, ECHO and others.

Yes, to debt pre-approved by the County Council. Yes, to municipalities prioritizing windfall from cost savings of consolidated dispatch.

Yes, to strengthening our redevelopment toolbox for the entirety of Volusia County!

Prior Deb's District blogs:

Tornado damage at Terra Mar Villsge near Edgewater, Fl / Headline SurferTornado aftermath: Good-will ordinance will help Edgewater's Terra Mar Village rebuild
 
Space X blastoff / Headline SurferPossibilities abound for Volusia County with space exploration, jobs especially
 
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Short Bio

Newly-elected dis. 3 Councilwoman Deb Denys writes her blog, "Deb's District," exclusively for Headline Surfer, Central Florida's 24/7 Internet newspaper (HeadlineSurfer.com, NSBNews.net, VolusiaNews.net). She lives in New Smyrna Beach with her husband George. They have 4 children and 11 grandchildren. Denys brings a rich and diverse background, and vast experience in business, administration and government. Previously, Denys was appointed by then-governors Jeb Bush and Charlie Crist as chair of the Early Learning Coalition of Flagler & Volusia. She also was an elected member of the Volusia County School Board. Denys retired from MetLife as a registered agent and licensed securities dealer.