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Cape Council to consider city absorption of CRA

By Staff | Oct 11, 2012

Cape Coral City Council has called a special meeting Monday to discuss whether to bring the functions of the downtown Community Redevelopment Agency into direct city purview.

Under the proposal, the city would disband the current appointed board and absorb the agency’s administration functions. Cape Coral City Council, which currently appoints the CRA board, would take over its oversight duties and the city manager would become the agency’s director.

The city is not proposing to retain the existing CRA staff.

The meeting is set for 3 p.m. in council chambers.

The reasoning behind the move comes down to dollars and cents, said Councilmember Marty McClain, council liaison to the CRA and sponsor of the ordinance that would bring the agency in-house.

Despite the financial logic, the decision to bring the measure forward has not come easy, he added.

“This is the hardest thing I’ve had to sponsor since I’ve been in office. I was liaison for three years, in my district,” McClain said. “The sustainability of the CRA is first and foremost. It’s difficult, but I’m compelled because I was elected to make decisions.”

The CRA, which was founded in the mid-1980s to promote the redevelopment of downtown, has been faced with a shrinking revenues since the housing bust. Its funding is based on tax increment financing, basically the difference in property tax dollars between valuations when the agency was founded and current taxable property values. When property values were high, the agency had funding for projects and staff.

When the bottom dropped out of the housing market, it took significant amounts of TIF funding with it. Revenues do not currently even cover payroll costs, much less capital improvement projects, officials said, adding reserves intended for projects have supplemented administrative costs.

“With the reduction in property values and revenues, we’ll be using the balance to continue to operate,” city spokesperson Connie Barron said. “The TIF money must be spent on downtown capital improvement. The city manager is concerned it’s just going to support operations.”

Barron said it is unknown what capital improvements will be done. However, they are on the short list of importance under City Manager John Szerlag’s banner.

In March, the CRA faced a similar situation with Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz motioning to merge the CRA with the city. Chulakes-Leetz, who cited lack of progress, later withdrew the motion when communication between the CRA and the city improved.

CRA chairman Rich Greer at the time applauded the decision to partner with the city.

He’s not too happy now, since he says the city doesn’t have a true plan for downtown, either.

“What’s the plan? I’m against it until I know downtown owners are being looked after,” Greer said. “Downtown is the canary in the coalmine. If it goes away, so does Cape Coral.”

Greer was further distressed by the way he he said he learned the news and fears the downtown may become a political football for city leaders to use to strike deals.

“McClain sits on our board and doesn’t say a word. How heartbroken can he be? The city manager comes over and says ‘you’re outta here.’ That behavior is not best for downtown,” Greer said. “That’s not the way I do business.

“They say they have a better way, but they won’t say what it is and won’t take input,” Greer said. “I don’t think much will happen. This is going to be a political football.”

The CRA Board of Directors has called a special meeting for 4 p.m. Friday at the CRA offices, 1231 Cape Coral Parkway. According to the agenda the board will meet for discussion and potential action concerning the proposed city assumption of agency duties.