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Foster miffed by stiff on county TIF



ST. PETERSBURG -- Mayor Bill Foster, still new in the job he won in November, said he was hoping for an assist from the county in getting money early to pay for consultants on the Pier project.

But this week Foster balked at the county's offer of help in what could be an early indication that relations between the two governments won't necessarily improve upon the passing of the Rick Baker era.

In exchange for a small but early draw on the $50-million of tax increment financing (or TIF) the county will make available in 2012, Foster said Pinellas County Administrator Bob LaSala wanted to review the project more frequently.

"My reaction is -- 'Do you really want to control everything?'" Foster said Friday. He said he expected a 1-page amended agreement of the contract for the early withdrawal, but instead got back four pages of "hogwash."

"Thanks for the favor in my first five weeks," Foster said with a laugh. "So, this is how it's going to be."

Foster said he objected to a clause that stated: "Given the recent market volatility, the County believes it to be in its best interests to undertake a review of the (TIF) on a more frequent basis."

"The county wants the right to review the project more," Foster said. "They might as well build it."

LaSala said no offense was meant. He said any change in the contract would require the county commission and city council to approve, anyway. The proposed amendments were only sticking to the intent of the agreeement, he said, which called for the county to review the project every five years.

Foster said given LaSala's reaction on the early withdrawal, he won't seek any more TIF money beyond the $50-million. The city is considering at least six options that range in price from $30-million to more than $70-million.

"Quite frankly, going back to the county for more money is daunting to me."

-- Michael Van Sickler, Times staff writer

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