Dear fellow citizens. I felt compelled to write this to bring to your attention two critical issues facing the City. The first concerns the PSJ Redevelopment Agency (CRA). The CRA has existed for almost 30 years and in that time it has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in improving what is basically the downtown area. CRA’s are to improve “blighted” areas to make them more appealing for businesses and tourists.
Some of the projects in the City are the façade grants to businesses to make the downtown more attractive. The CRA has purchased two parking lots (one on Williams Ave and one on U.S. 98) to provide much needed parking for businesses and tourists. Other uses of the money include helping to relocate the lighthouse and helping the new CRA in North St. Joe get going. Without the CRA these things would not have happened. This money stays entirely in the City of Port St. Joe and is not shared with the county. Without the CRA a big chunk of the money goes to the county to use wherever on whatever.
The county does not like the CRA because it deprives it of money to spend on who knows what, certainly not for the City’s benefit. I know this because I was told this by one county official five or six years ago. The CRA expires in 2020 but the City Commission has voted to extend it. The county commission does not approve of the extension and is trying to dangle some financial carrots in front of the City to get it to let the CRA die. These financial carrots do not come anywhere close to what the City will reap if the CRA is extended. Mind you, this money can only be used to improve and benefit the City. After Hurricane Michael there is no greater need than to restore the city to its pre-storm condition.
The county has offered the City about $1.5 million over several years to let the CRA die. If the City renews the CRA it would receive over $4 million more than that based on payment history. In other words, give up $4 million to get $1.5 million. Really?
Commissioner Ashbrook said he negotiated the deal with the county. If he did, he needs to read “The Art of the Deal” because his negotiating skills could use some improvement. Kudos to Commissioner Hoffman for getting two more votes to hold a workshop on a proposed interlocal agreement with the county which would kill the CRA. Hoffman called the agreement a “buy-out” by the county. I think a better description would be a sell-out by the City. Mayor Patterson voted against holding a workshop saying he trusted the county. Really? If he does, then Bo don’t know. Commissioner Lowry (who by the way works for the county) also voted against holding a workshop.
Don’t let your City Commission sell the City out to the county. Each of us needs to know the facts and let our voices be heard. A workshop gives you the chance to be heard. Thanks to Commissioners Hoffman, Langston and Ashbrook for seeing fit to give the people that chance.
The second critical issue involves the offer to sell the Gulf Aire sewer system to the City. The City was first approached about five years ago by the sewer system’s owner and the City did its due diligence to determine whether to buy it.
While it could benefit the City by adding customers it is only a benefit at a fair price. The City’s engineer and Public Works inspected the system and for some things that would need to be repaired, in addition to the need for a new lift station to serve the system. The asking price was determined to be too high.
Enter the county. The county has offered the city $500,000 in RESTORE funds coming from the 2010 oil spill. Although the county’s goal of seeing the system sold to the City is a good one, the problem is still the price. Without knowing what problems there might be with the aging system and a fair appraisal, the City will be buying a pig in a poke. An inspection and an appraisal will set the price. The City has more pressing needs due to damages to the City’s infrastructure form the hurricane. Lift stations were damaged. Storm drains are full of debris. Buildings were flooded. The citizens of Port St. Joe will be better served by the commissioners focusing on the City and using any money from the county to fix City problems. The Gulf Aire sewer system is not going away and can be looked at another day. Let your voice be heard.