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Battle brewing over county funds for cities’ redevelopment

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – County leaders plan to ask state legislators for help when it comes to cities setting up redevelopment areas and forcing the county to pay into them.

“They have zero control” over the county funds, County Budget Director Jason Brown said of county leaders.

Both the City of Sebastian and the City of Fellsmere have established community redevelopment areas, which help serve as a way to funnel funds directly to those targeted areas for improvements. Tax values are set a certain level within the CRAs for a specific period of time. As improvements and new development come in, the tax value – in theory – increases but the property owners do not pay that increase. Instead, the county does.

“It’s a tax equity issue,” Brown said, who added that the county does not have a quarrel with the cities over the CRAs themselves, just the funding aspect.

“They can be very useful tools,” Brown said of CRAs in general.

Indian River County leaders have concerns about how funding the CRAs could impact the county’s budget.

“The county is strained financially,” Brown said, noting that property taxes are down $10 million. “This is an additional drain.”

Sebastian City Manager Al Minner said he understands where the county is coming from in terms of the budget.

“We’re all struggling with the budget,” he said.

Last year, the county paid $289,932 total to Sebastian and Fellsmere. Those funds, otherwise, would have gone to the county to fund jails, libraries, the courts and other countywide services the county must provide.

“I think it’s a red herring,” Fellsmere City Manager Jason Nunemaker said of the argument.

Nunemaker said the CRAs are blighted areas and once those areas are brought up to code, it would diminish the need for service.

“They’re looking at this with no sense of any vision but through a calculator,” Nunemaker said.

Brown said the county is looking to the state legislature to change the rules so that counties don’t have to pay as much into the CRAs.

County Administrator Joe Baird has proposed a 20 percent decrease in county funds. If approved and last year’s rates remained the same, the county could expect to pay $57,986 less – or a total of $231,945.

“It would pretty much cripple” the CRA, Nunemaker said of his city. Fellsmere received $34,715 last year from the county. It could expect about $7,000 less next year if the state legislature went along with the county’s request.

Sebastian City Manager Al Minner said the 20 percent reduction in the county’s CRA contribution – an estimated $50,000 – is about 10 percent of the CRAs annual budget.

“It could affect projects,” Minner said.

But whether the county could be successful in its attempt to change the state rules remains to be seen.

Both Minner and Nunemaker doubt state lawmakers would change the rules – as it would impact all counties in Florida and those cities’ CRAs as well.

“That’s a pretty long haul,” Minner said, adding that he would suspect that the state legislature would “draw probably a lot of fuss” from the cities statewide.

Besides that, Nunemaker said there has been a long running battle between cities and counties over CRAs. There have been legislative attempts made to change the rules, but have not been successful.

“It’s a pretty big task,” Minner said.

County leaders plan to meet with its legislative delegation 9 a.m. Jan. 26 when the delegation holds a hearing to discuss bills in the Vero Beach City Council Chambers, 1053 20th Place.

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