LAKE PLACID - The town council will consider starting a community redevelopment agency in the downtown area to help support and improve the business community.
Town Administrator Phil Williams said the CRA issue will be on the agenda for the city council meeting on Jan. 13.
Council has been discussing starting a CRA for a couple of years and he believes the council is split on the issue, Williams said. But there is enough interest to put it on the agenda.
Some council members are concerned with the initial start-up costs and believe it would be a long time before a CRA would produce anything, he said. Other council members believe it has to get started at some point if it is going to help the businesses.
"I think the side that is not in favor of it wants to help the businesses, they are just not in favor of doing it with a CRA," Williams said.
The startup costs include an initial study, performed by a planning agency, that shows a "necessity" for a CRA, he said. In general there has to be a declaration of some type of "blight," which is not as bad as it sounds.
Once that is established, there are additional costs in creating a "redevelopment plan," to address the issues in the initial study, he said.
William estimates the overall CRA startup costs would be around $30,000.
Also, a CRA would take some tax dollars from the town and county, he noted.
Councilwoman Debra Worley has been a CRA proponent for years.
"I have been trying to get the votes to do a CRA since 2003," she said recently.
A CRA freezes the tax base so any additional property taxes from new businesses or expansions goes to the CRA, she explained. So if a CRA was started years ago the town would have received the property taxes from Wendy's, Walgreens, Balmoral Assisted Living, etc.
"We would have had hundreds of thousands of dollars coming into the town to do projects like fix the tower and do some of the things we need to do in the downtown area like streescapes," Worley said.
She believes now the business owners have a better understanding of what a CRA does from reading the newspaper and seeing what Sebring has been doing.
Worley doesn't see a downside to creating a CRA.
She notes that some say the tax money should stay in the general fund, but the town can use what it needs for CRA projects and then put the rest of the funding back in the general fund.
The business owners Highlands Today contacted were not familiar with the CRA concept and said they needed more information to have an opinion about it.
A CRA is a public entity created by a city or county to implement community redevelopment activities. It is governed by a separate appointed board of five to seven members.
The funding source for CRA's, Tax Increment Financing (TIF), allows for a redirection of a portion of the existing property taxes to redevelopment projects without imposing a new level of taxation.
A CRA is created when the governing body finds one or more areas within the city that are in "slum" condition and have a need to rehabilitate, conserve and redevelop that area. After the CRA is created, the board, along with the agency, is required to prepare and adopt a redevelopment plan, which includes a detailed description of the boundaries for a redevelopment area.