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Councilman: Council should become CRA board

By Staff | Mar 3, 2012

If Cape Coral City Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz has his way, the downtown Community Redevelopment Agency will be run under the auspices of the city, by the city council, and have offices in City Hall.

And the current CRA isn’t sure this is such a good idea and doesn’t even think is legal.

That will be among the talking points Monday when the City Council holds its workshop Monday.

The agenda item says Chulakes-Leetz will bring for discussion plans to “repeal the CRA board of commissioners and provide the City Council be the CRA and that the council act as the board of the CRA.”

Chulakes-Leetz said the CRA is living well beyond its means and, since the tax dollars the CRA received during the boom years have dwindled with the property values, it’s time to consolidate.

“For the last few years and the next anticipated few years, all the money collected will pay for the multi-level of bureaucracy,” Chulakes-Leetz said. “We pay $60,000 in retainers for lawyers just to pick up the phone. This has gone on for years.”

Leetz also noted the city pays another $60,000 in downtown office space when it could be based at City Hall for next to nothing, and that the CRA has “spent millions of dollars with little improvement to the area.”

“This is to initially create the discussion. Otherwise, we will repeat the same behavior,” Leetz said. “Why should we pay six times more in office space when it’s not necessary?”

Rich Greer, incoming chairman of the CRA whose position could be removed if the ordinance passes, said he’s open to any ideas that could improve the CRA, but doesn’t believe Chulakes-Leetz’s plans are the way to go.

“Leetz offers things to ponder. If there are places to improve, we’ll look at it,” Greer said. “But I want to understand what he’s concerned about.”

Greer said that moving the offices to City Hall would be wrong, not only because the building isn’t located downtown, but because it might not even be legal.

Greer also said Leetz is too focused on the dollars being spent and less on the return of investment.

“The problem I have is he’s focused on dollars. You can make the case, but how about the return,” Greer said. “There’s more to it than that.”

Greer also wondered what will happen with the council if they take over, especially with the downtown area in just one district, which is District 1, represented by Marty McClain.

McClain believes Chulakes-Leetz needs to leave the CRA be.

“It’s his prerogative to bring it forward, but it’s one more item the council doesn’t have time to manage,” McClain said. “No employee of the city can work for the CRA. It has different by-laws. The CRA has done a great job the past year.”

“Under this set up you have one councilman who has the CRA. How will the six others react when you try to get things done?” Greer asked.

The CRA was created in 1986 to help bring in tax dollars to the downtown area. The CRA was made into a separate entity in 1993, with downtown offices.

The CRA is funded by Tax Incremental Funds (TIF). For example, if you owned a store in 1986 and the taxes were $1,000, and in 2005 were $3,000, the difference between the two ($2,000) goes to the CRA to provide grants and programs for builders and developers to come downtown.

Greer said it’s essential to keep the CRA where it is to get downtown fully developed, to the point where a CRA isn’t necessary.

“The better we do our job, the more money that comes in,” Greer said. “We want to work ourselves out of business.”