Could Newtown CRA Solve Dispute?

Government

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY FRESHLY SQUEEZED CONTENT EVERY MORNING TUESDAY JUN 20, 2017

As administrators with Sarasota County and the City of Sarasota discuss a dispute over the final payment for an expired redevelopment agreement, city officials have suggested leaving that argument behind and having the governments instead partner to tackle blight in the Newtown area.

Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin on Monday suggested, among a list of “painless win-win city county partnerships,” that the city reset the base year for raising tax increment financing within the Newtown Community Redevelopment Area (CRA), and that the county agree to fund the CRA for 30 years. “The Newtown CRA will be a slow-growing economic development district due to its small size and low-density zoning, and symbolize a new era in Sarasota County,” Barwin wrote in prepared notes, “with both major governments in the county addressing the historical challenges the 100-year-old neighborhood known as Newtown continues to strive to overcome.”

The suggestion was part of a list of possible partnerships proposed by the city to resolve a dispute over the sunsetted Downtown Sarasota CRA. That was allowed to sunset by county commissioners last year, but city officials then noted that despite a 30-year agreement with the county over funding the redevelopment effort, payments were only made for 29 years, and the city says it should be paid one more installment of $4.7 million. County officials have maintained that no money was paid the first year, and no discussion of a 30th payment ever arose before the final payment from the county was authorized. At a joint meeting of city and county commissioners, elected officials on both boards encouraged administration to come together and reach a resolution outside of litigation. 

County Commissioners will likely discuss the issue at a meeting today, but County Commissioner Nancy Detert suggested another 30-year agreement may not be the best resolution. “Then we are just dragging it out for 60 years,” she says. “I’d like some resolution, but a resolution that is proposed soon and is over soon. If that worked out well, then we could move to other projects and see if we want to partner again long-term.”

Barwin said he had been encouraged in conversations with county officials to suggest solutions based not on hitting a dollar amount but in finding reasonable partnerships and projects. The city leader also suggested solutions such as joint support of the city-owned Robert L. Taylor Community Complex, where a majority of users live outside city limits, or with extending an agreement regarding the Marion Anderson Brownfield and potentially establishing workforce training onsite. In return, the city would drop threats of litigation over the funding, and could also move forward on a park and parking facility on Ringling Boulevard. 

Mayor Shelli Freeland Eddie says it makes sense for a resolution to direct funding toward Newtown. “We need to make sure funds, if there are any, go to the area that needs it the most,” she said at a meeting Monday. Officials also suggested that area would benefit not just from brick-and-mortar investment but in better marketing and economic development.  

Detert stressed that the county had a solid defense that no money was owed at all. She still hopes for a resolution. “If we can’t come up with something reasonable, then I’m sure they will do what that always do and just sue us,” she says, “and we’ll see how much that costs.”

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