Historic City News reporters watched as St Augustine City Commissioners unanimously approved a spending authorization of up to $75,000 to hire a consultant to advise the City on the process of completing a Community Redevelopment Agency as a way to redirect ad valorem tax revenue to pay for new infrastructure projects in the Lincolnville area.
The focus on a CRA, led by Commissioner Nancy Sikes-Kline who said in the Monday meeting that she has already talked with two consultants about the proposal, was first discussed last fall in the context of a funding source for the Willie Galimore Center, pool, and Eddie Vickers Park.
As it turns out, none of those plans are feasible — and, as Commissioner Bill Leary pointed out, given the state of the economy and uncertain growth in taxable value in the Lincolnville neighborhood, the CRA itself may not prove to be feasible.
Assistant City Attorney Isabelle Lopez explained, in generalities, how the City would proceed. With commission approval now in hand, the City Manager will solicit requests to bid on the consulting job; not with a view to actually implementing the CRA, but rather to determine if the idea is workable and makes economic sense.
To qualify, among a list of other requirements, the City will have to demonstrate a need to ameliorate a blighted area of the City that can be accomplished with specific capital improvements. Those identified needs cannot be projects already under consideration, nor can any of the CRA trust fund be used to pay ongoing operating expenses. That eliminates the Galimore Center and Pool.
One of three concerns express by Leary was the fact that if the community development plan actually makes it through all the hoops, it will absolutely commit both city and county ad valorem revenue from the special area exclusively for CRA approved projects — eliminating the possibility of using those funds as part of the general revenue fund for expenses in other parts of the city.
Another concern is that it will take years for the City to realize any funds from the implementation of a new CRA — possibly seven years or more, depending on the change in property values, just to recover the consulting fee. The typical life of a CRA is thirty, and may be as long as forty years, Lopez clarified for the commission.
It was not clear if the proposal responses will come back to the commission before a consultant is actually hired or if the selection of a consultant will be made by the City Manager without commission input. Classifying his position at this point as “skeptical”, Leary expressed further concerns that the commission will not have adequate opportunity to apply the brakes if the CRA concept proves not to be advantageous.
“To start with,” Leary said, “$75,000 sounds like a lot of money for a consultant, to me.”