The city of Port St. Joe will seek to extend the term of its redevelopment agency, though the Board of County Commissioners has expressed its dissent.

The Port St. Joe Redevelopment Agency, followed by the City Commission (all five commissioners sit on the PSJRA board with two at-large members) has approved moving ahead with extending the redevelopment agency tenure.

The board said last week it will seek the maximum extension under law, which is 30 years.

The city, however, is coming at the extension from a different vantage point than the BOCC, with slightly differing legal opinions regarding whether or not the county has a say in the extension.

Bill Kennedy, executive director of the PSJRA, said he had fully researched the issue, had discussions with the Florida director of community redevelopment agencies and the city’s attorney.

His research, and the legal opinion, indicates the county has little standing on the extension of the PSJRA.

Despite resistance 15 years ago, the BOCC proved obligated to pay annually its share of the percentage of property tax dollars to the PSJRA.

County attorney Jeremy Novak suggested last month the city could move forward on its own, but said the county’s position was that the PSJRA had accomplished the goals set at the outset.

He said the city could move forward independent of the county, but the county, from an April joint workshop on, has contended it would not support an extension.

A question for attorneys as the issue progresses is whether the county’s position factors into the extension.

The original CRA was established in 1990, based on findings of need approved by the city in 1989.

The original term was for 30 years, with an option to extend one time from 1-30 years.

Unfortunately for the revenue of the agency, neither county nor city provided required annual payments of property taxes for the first 15 years of the term.

The BOCC protested the additional payments, but the protests proved fruitless.

(A CRA operates based on revenue garnered from increases in property values within its boundaries. As property values increase, a small percentage of that increase reflected in property taxes is directed to the CRA.

(The payments from the county and city have varied, but have averaged in the area of $180,000-$210,000).

From the city’s perspective, the PSJRA has, since actually being funded, accomplished significant work in the city.

From roadside beautification, establishing public parking areas to a façade grant program which brought improvement to storefronts, the agency has made an impact, commissioners said.

“Some of the most immediate differences you can see in town have been due to the PSJRA,” said Commissioner David Ashbrook. “Reid Ave. has never looked better.”

And, Kennedy said, significant work remains.

“The value of the PSJRA is tremendous and there is a lot more to be done,” Kennedy said. “There are Williams and Long avenues; the downtown footprint is so large.

“And there is North Port St. Joe, which unfortunately has been on the negative side of the (taxing formula). Once they are on the positive side they should thrive. We all want to help the entire community.”

As Commissioner Rex Buzzett noted, an extension will give the “expanded area (North Port St. Joe) a chance to come back.”

The process of extending the CRA, Kennedy said, should be completed within a four to six weeks.

“It is a notification process,” Kennedy said.

The city will notify the other taxing authorities linked to the city, the BOCC and Gulf County School Board, and advertise to the public for a prescribed period.

There will be a public hearing and a final vote of the five city commissioners.


Downtown restrooms

On the PSJRA and downtown improvement front, the city approved last week a lease agreement with attorney and Port St. Joe native Bob Kerrigan for land on which public restrooms will be built.

The city will lease the property at 320 Reid Ave. for 30 years at $1 per year.

The public restrooms have long been sought by the PSJRA to enhance the downtown shopping and dining experience.