homepage logo

CRA consolidation into city moves forward

By Staff | Jan 19, 2013

City Manager John Szerlag, acting director of the Community Redevelopment Agency, has recommended that all functions of the agency be performed by city staff.

In a memo to the board on Wednesday, Szerlag said that “after an analysis of all job duties performed by current CRA employees, it is recommended that CRA functions be incorporated into existing city staff.”

Szerlag went on to say that the recommendation is based “solely on economics, as the CRA was operating in an unsustainable fashion.”

The issue will be discussed further at the CRA meeting on Tuesday at the CRA offices on Cape Coral Parkway at 5 p.m., city spokesperson Connie Barron said. If the consolidation is approved, it will go into effect Feb. 15.

Barron said Szerlag would give an update on the consolidation during Tuesday’s meeting.

Other details were not available.

“Mr. Szerlag is not going to go into specifics before the meeting,” Barron said.

Cape Coral Councilmember Rana Erbrick, CRA board chairperson, said it all comes down to finances.

“We got into this because of the economics. The choice is overhead vs. projects,” Erbrick said.

During the December meeting Szerlag gave the CRA board an outline of his plan. He said he would have Steve Neff take over the maintenance of Big John’s parking lot and crosswalks on Cape Coral Parkway, which Szerlag advised be scrapped, and the stormwater demonstration plan.

Paul Dickson would be in charge of volunteers and the South Cape United Business Association (SCUBA), Derek Burr would be in charge of facade grants, Dana Brunett with the vision plan, and Barron the entertainment group, e-mail list, Web site, televised meetings and organizational positives.

The annual report and finances would be city Business Manager Victoria Bateman’s jobs, with Brunett in charge of advertising and marketing.

Rebecca vanDeutekom would handle all the clerical duties.

None of the few remaining staff of the original CRA are expected to become part of the current CRA which the city council took over in November.

CRA executive director John Jacobsen was put on leave shortly after the city absorbed the CRA until Feb. 1, and likely will be terminated without cause.

It also is believed that Helen Ramey, economic developer of the CRA, and executive assistant Phyllis DeMarco will be terminated effective Feb. 15.

As all are under contract, all would receive compensation packages, Erbrick said.

Ramey was hoping the city might bring some of CRA staff aboard.

“I was surprised by the news that after all these months since the change in governance of the CRA, we would not be integrated into the city staff to continue serving the city and the South Cape CRA,” Ramey said in a prepared statement.

“I understand that this is a budget issue for the CRA and I understand the union’s concerns that preferential treatment not be given in the city’s hiring process regarding vacant positions. I await the board discussion on the 22nd.” Ramey said.

One business owner believes any decision to terminate Ramey would be shortsighted.

“Helen is our go-to gal. They can assign all the responsibilities they think she has to all those people in city hall, but they’re tragically missing the human element,” said Lynn Pippinger, owner of the Dixie Roadhouse on Southeast 47th Terrace. “She knows the business owners, their personalities, and she’s great at getting everyone together.”

Funding for the district comes from downtown property owners. The agency’s enabling act provides that tax dollars over the amount existent when the district was founded are to be used within the district.

When property values increased, there were tax dollars available. The crash in property valuations, though, cut heavily into this “tax increment financing” funding, hence the consolidation.

Erbrick said she and her fellow council members sitting as the CRA board have made clear to Szerlag that there will be a presence for business owners and those coming into the area.

The question is where. The CRA has a lease on its offices on Cape Coral Parkway (at a cost of $52,955 per year) until Jan. 31, 2014. What happens after is anyone’s guess.

“The transition plan assures there will be a presence. Will it be in that office building? Maybe, maybe not,” Erbrick said. “We own a building on Lafayette, there’s the Chester Resource Center. We need a building that can hold 30, 40, 50 people.”