Florida Keys News
Thursday, May 9, 2013
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Panel: Spend $1.1M to finish parks

An advisory committee that oversees Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) for Bahama Village projects agreed Wednesday to fully fund the pending renovations of the neighborhood's two parks, a $1.1 million project that has been on hold due to a huge shortfall.

The Bahama Village Advisory Committee on Wednesday finished its recommendations, divvying up the $850,000 available from this fiscal year on top of some leftover money from prior projects left unused by various groups.

Committee members left Old City Hall having allocated almost every cent of the $1.8 million in total TIF funds, which included the $850,000 collected for fiscal year 2013.

On May 21, the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), comprising the seven city commissioners, is expected to make the TIF grants final.

If approved, construction will resume on the two parks within 60 days and be nearly finished by Christmas, said Assistant City Manager Mark Finigan.

TIF funds come from property taxes of the homeowners in a certain district, in this case Bahama Village, under the principle the money be spent on neighborhood projects.

"We had a very special circumstance," said Carmen Turner, the committee's chairwoman, referring to the Bahama Village park construction bid coming in way off target from the architect's plans.

"If it were not for the fact that the bids came in as high as they did, and the project was not funded accurately, then we wouldn't be in this situation," Turner said. "The most important thing is to make sure the children of the village, really the children of our entire city, have someplace nice to go."

Turns out, the city can make up an $830,000 shortfall for the parks by delivering $530,000 from all available TIF funds, $100,000 that had been suggested for another project, plus $157,000 originally meant for a structural analysis of the "band room" building on Fort Street used by Just 4 Kids.

"Historically, Bahama Village has been left behind," said City Commissioner Clayton Lopez, who left the meeting satisfied with the recommendation. "TIF should be a supplement to what the general fund supplies; that's the reason for there being a TIF."

The parks, however, can't wait any longer, Lopez said.

"We have an immediate need," he said. "Given all the time constraints that we're dealing with, we need to get this moving on."

Lopez said that he will lobby for the band room funding, the $157,000, in this coming city budget season.

Tom Milone, a former City Commission candidate, said he couldn't argue against fixing up the parks, but warned the committee to keep a close watch over how Key West spends its tax dollars.

TIF money reserved for Bahama Village improvements is now fully funding what the city's general fund typically pays for, Milone said.

"Bahama Village would not be a TIF if it wasn't a needy community," Milone said. "Seems to me, TIF funds should be used in addition to city funds, not instead of."

Bahama Village has a dire need for fully functional city parks, said Alison Morales, of the county Health Department, who studies environmental health.

"Some of the residents admit to not even going to the park due to substandard conditions," said Morales, who has studied the neighborhood in detail. "Some people want to see more activities for children, to keep them out of trouble and off the street."

Mona Clark, a retired educator and child advocate, said she welcomes the park renovations but like Milone questioned the city's responsibility when it comes to recreational spots.

"Somewhere within the budget, we should find the city monies so we don't always have to look for TIF funds to finish those projects," said Clark.

VFW happier with less money

On Wednesday, representatives from Veterans of Foreign Wars/American Legion Post 163 agreed with the committee's plan to shave a previously suggested grant by $100,000, to $210,000, to help make their building structurally sound.

That $100,000 should go to the parks, the committee decided.

The lower grant helps the group, said Lopez, because it eliminates a funding formula requirement that the VFW obtain a dollar-to-dollar match.

Now the VFW may apply for a $50,000 state grant on top of the $210,000.

"It eliminates the requirement of a 100 percent match," said architect Bert Bender, who is working on the VFW renovation.

"We can still do the project, get the red tag off, stabilize the building so that they could move back into the building and utilize it."

The committee Wednesday stuck to prior recommendations:

Awarding $205,000 to the Cornish Memorial AME Zion Church; $72,000 to Habitat for Humanity; $55,000 to the Coral City Elks; and $20,000 to create a community garden in Bahama Village.

At issue earlier this year for the advisory committee was a late request from city planners seeking $830,518 for the parks after finding out the architect's math was way off-target.

"In order to stay within that time frame and avoid a costly rebidding process, it is critical that the [advisory committee] make a recommendation to the CRA to award funds for the completion of the park project this month," planner Nicole Malo wrote in a memo to the committee.

gfilosa@keysnews.com

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