Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Plan for easing cost of saving Cone Ranch as open space outlined

TAMPA — Members of the group that recommends which environmentally sensitive lands Hillsborough County should purchase greeted plans for protecting the Cone Ranch with skepticism Monday.

The county's top debt manager presented two possibilities to members of the general committee for the Environmental Lands Acquisition and Preservation Program.

The 12,800-acre tract in northeast Hillsborough is currently owned by the county as a prospective drinking water well field. Commissioners have voted to transfer the property to ELAPP to be preserved and opened to the public.

County Utilities and Commerce Administrator Mike Merrill has maintained that the county must pay fair market value for the land even to transfer it from one branch of county government to another. That's because the land is considered an asset of the county's water utility, serving as a collateral of sorts for debt the utility has taken on.

Merrill is suggesting two possible strategies to avoid paying full price. The first is to ask the company that ensures that the water utility can pay its debts to bondholders to relieve the county of the obligation for the water department to be paid full value, and simply transfer ownership to ELAPP.

The second option is to delay the transfer until 2015, when the water utility pays off its current debt. The utility is set to issue new bonds for construction work in coming months, but it would warn investors up front that Cone Ranch is going to be removed from the water department's list of assets backing the new bonds.

Under either option, ELAPP would likely have to pay book value — roughly what it paid for the property in 1988 — between $12 million and $13 million. That's expected to be much less than market value, which some estimate could top $50 million.

Some ELAPP committee members, or others in the audience for the discussion, questioned Merrill's assertion that paying fair market value is a requirement.

He said that this position has been validated by repeated opinions through the years from outside bond counsel, most recently last week.

"It's not just me making this stuff up," Merrill said.

Others expressed concerns that under the second option, the transfer would not take place for five years. Various people have stepped forward with proposals for developing parts of the property through the years, and some ELAPP supporters fear that any delay will leave a window open.

"I'm not convinced it's stopping these cockamamie schemes from coming up," ELAPP committee member Mariella Smith said.

Merrill said steps can be taken to lessen that possibility, such as having the county enter a contract to never develop the land. He will present his proposals for transferring the land to county commissioners Jan. 21.

Bill Varian can be reached at varian@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3387.

Plan for easing cost of saving Cone Ranch as open space outlined 01/11/10 [Last modified: Monday, January 11, 2010 10:42pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Two boys in critical condition after Largo crash

    Accidents

    LARGO — A 7-year-old boy was thrown from a car in a head-on crash on Starkey Road, and both he and a 6-year-old boy were in critical condition Sunday night, according to the Florida Highway Patrol.

  2. Trump's new order bars almost all travel from seven countries

    National

    WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Sunday issued a new order banning almost all travel to the United States from seven countries, including most of the nations covered by his original travel ban, citing threats to national security posed by letting their citizens into the country.

    President Donald Trump speaks to reporters Sunday upon his return to the White House in Washington.
  3. Somehow, Rays' Chris Archer remains just shy of being an ace

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — Chris Archer had another bad game Sunday.

    Chris Archer is sputtering to the finish line, his rough start on Sunday his fourth in his past five in which he hasn’t gotten past four innings.
  4. In Mexico City, hopes of finding quake survivors dwindle

    World

    MEXICO CITY — Five days after the deadly magnitude 7.1 earthquake, the hulking wreckage of what used to be a seven-story office building is one of the last hopes: one of just two sites left where searchers believe they may still find someone trapped alive in Mexico City.

    Rescue workers search for survivors inside a felled office building in the Roma Norte neighborhood of Mexico City on Saturday.
  5. GOP health bill in major peril as resistance hardens among key senators

    National

    WASHINGTON — The floundering Republican attempt to undo the Affordable Care Act met hardening resistance from key GOP senators Sunday that left it on the verge of collapse even as advocates vowed to keep pushing for a vote this week.

    Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a moderate, said Sunday that it was “very difficult” to envision voting for this health-care bill.