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Tampa officials wary of Storms' bill

Sen. Ronda Storms aims to cut the life span of special taxing districts for community development.

Sen. Ronda Storms aims to cut the life span of special taxing districts for community development.

TAMPA — State Sen. Ronda Storms has introduced legislation that city officials say would severely hamper their efforts to revitalize neighborhoods like East Tampa and Tampa Heights.

Storms, a Republican from Brandon, has proposed limiting to 15 years the life of special taxing districts intended to boost economic development in blighted areas. She also wants any district already in place for 15 years dissolved in 2009.

Such districts, called community redevelopment areas, redirect property taxes raised in their borders toward improving infrastructure and the economy in the area. They typically remain in place 20 to 30 years.

"It takes some time to build up resources that can be used to cure some of the more significant blight conditions in a community," said Mark Huey, manager of economic development for the city.

The budget for the East Tampa Community Redevelopment Area in 2005, its first year, was $1-million. The 2008 budget, thanks to property value increases, is more than $6-million.

Among other things, the money will go to provide home improvement loans, beautify major streets, and pay the salaries of police dedicated to investigating environmental crimes such as illegal dumping.

Districts created downtown in 1983 and 1988 helped build the Tampa Convention Center. Future revenue there is slated to go to construction of a $15-million waterfront park.

Huey also said the 15-year time frame makes it difficult to finance such major projects as new stormwater systems over decades. He also pointed out that the city's agreement with the developers of the Heights project, which will bring nearly 2,000 homes to the neighborhood just north of downtown, includes a 30-year funding commitment from a community redevelopment area.

The districts get their money by directing property tax revenue increases away from the city, county and other taxing authorities and back into the neighborhoods where they are collected.

Tampa has nine of the special taxing districts.

Eric Johnson, Hillsborough County's budget director, said payments to community redevelopment areas are one of the fastest growing parts of the county's budget.

In 2008, Tampa's community redevelopment areas will pull in $14-million that otherwise would have gone to Hillsborough County. In 2006, the figure was $8-million.

Storms' bill "is probably helpful to counties because it forces (cities) to move quickly and frees us up from those obligations," he said. "But obviously, if you're trying to finance infrastructure, that's a very short period."

Storms, a former Hillsborough County commissioner, did not return calls for comment.

Carol Westmoreland, executive director of the Florida Redevelopment Association, said her organization opposes the bill.

Most of the state's 141 community redevelopment areas have been in place for more than 15 years, she said.

"They'd only have one more year to exist," she said, calling it an "untimely death."

But, she said, the districts are an easy target because they generate a lot of money as neighborhoods turn around and property values increase.

"The good news is there's a lot of money out there. The bad news is there's a lot of money out there," she said. "Now that we have money, we are in the limelight. It's worth fighting over."

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Tampa officials wary of Storms' bill 03/04/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 4, 2008 10:46pm]
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