With a deadline from the county looming, Port St. Joe city commissioners during a special meeting Monday approved an interlocal agreement that has been a primary topic for a ping-pong series of the meetings the past two weeks.
The agreement includes the sunset of the city Community Development Agency (CRA) on the south side of the business district while leaving intact the CRA zone on the north side.
In return, the Board of County Commissioners agreed to payments totaling roughly $2 million over a period of six years and will jointly establish a “community improvement” fund with the city.
City commissioners approved the agreement, which they had debated in two meetings and a workshop, 4-1 with Commissioner Scott Hoffman continuing his dissent.
The vote came after the BOCC held a special meeting last week and commissioners expressed frustration with the lack of a decision from the city.
Calling arguments raised by Hoffman during city debates “disingenuous” and “asinine,” County Administrator Michael Hammond contended the two CRA zones were separate and there would be no impact to the north side CRA by sun-setting the south side CRA zone.
Hoffman had brought the issue forward during a workshop, contending the CRAs were a single element; sunset the south side CRA would mean a sunset of the north side CRA.
City attorney Adam Albritton was researching the issue.
City commissioners, the majority of who have favored the agreement from the outset, said last week during the second regular meeting the item was on the agenda that they could not vote until they had a legal opinion that the two CRAs were separate.
The BOCC, venting frustration at the delay, voted last week to give the city until Thursday to make a decision on the interlocal or the county would withdraw the offer and look at legal remedies to halt the city’s one-time plans to extend the CRA another 30 years.
Mayor Bo Patterson walked into the hallway and called City Manager Jim Anderson to call a special meeting Monday.
“I think you guys have been gracious to give us time to figure this out,” Patterson told county commissioners. “We want to try to make the best decision for the entire city.
“It’s a good deal.”
Albritton said Monday his research showed that the intent of establishing the second north side CRA in 2010 was that it would be a separate entity.
Under the terms of the deal, the county will make an initial payment of $175,000, slightly less than its annual payments to the CRA in recent years, on Dec. 1.
In January of 2021 and the following two years, the county will make payments of $408,000.
The county will also make five annual payments of $40,000 beginning this year to be used by the city to purchase a new fire truck.
And beginning in 2024, five years out, the county and city would establish a “community improvement” fund into which both governments would contribute $50,000 per year for 10 years.
Increases in annual payments would be based on increases in property taxes within the city, a mechanism similar to tax increment financing (TIF) which funds a CRA.
Under TIF, a small fraction of any property value increases within the CRA boundary is sent back for infrastructure and other improvements within the CRA zone.
As the county makes those payments, the city will sunset the south side CRA as scheduled next and is prohibited from establishing another CRA for 20 years.
The south side CRA, established in the 1990s, has long been a thorn for county commissioners, through many changes on the board.
Commissioner Phil McCroan said last week he was opposed to the CRA when he was a city commissioner and remained opposed.
And though putting pressure on the city, McCroan and Commissioner Sandy Quinn, Jr. each cautioned about getting into a legal skirmish with the city.
As for city commissioners, all but Hoffman have been lined up in favor of the agreement for more than two weeks.
Hoffman’s argument was that the city should seek a better deal and contended that the city could lose as much as $11 million by not pursuing an extension of the CRA.
And during the two meetings and workshop which preceded Monday’s special meeting, no one from the public commented in favor of the agreement.
Ashbrook, the city’s negotiator of the deal, said the money would be needed for matching funds for grants the city was likely to pursue in the immediate future.
Patterson said he hopes the deal would help foster a more positive working relationship with the county.