Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Commission okays release of long-delayed reimbursement funds

At tonight's Key West City Commission meeting, the Commission -- in their role as the BAHAMA VILLAGE COMMUNITY REDEVELOPMENT AGENCY (“CRA”) -- took under consideration a reimbursement request by the Bahama Conch Community Land Trust. The BCCLT had formally requested that a long-overdue disbursement from the dedicated "Tax Increment Financing" ("TIF") funds be issued to cover 7 years of unreimbursed expenses. From the agenda:

(a) Authorizing an expenditure of tax increment financing monies to the Bahama Conch Community Land Trust (BCCLT) in the amount of $102,306.00 for “Unreimbursed Allowable Acquisition and Rehabilitation Expenditures” and $353,418.00 for “Developer Fees Associated with or attributed
to Property Development Activities” (Total amount of $455,724.00). (Commissioner Lopez)

The Commission chambers were filled with residents and friends of Bahama Village and the BCCLT, including residents of the BCCLT-managed properties, community leaders, life-long community residents and others interested in seeing the BCCLT's mission continue unabated.

When the agenda reached this item, BCCLT Board of Directors President Jim Marquardt opened the public comments discussion by introducing the Board members who were present, as well as the BCCLT staff and the current and past auditors of BCCLT financials. He was followed by BCCLT Deputy Director Wheeler Winstead who provided the background rationale behind the request.

At this point a steady parade of Bahama Village and other Key West citizenry stepped up to the podium to express their support for the BCCLT and the work it has done for the community. Everyone in the room, or watching on TV, had to be moved by the stirring testimonials. Some of the speakers cited the local and state legislation directives that support the request. All of the speakers made it clear that they felt that the reimbursements were both necessary and urgent. Finally BCCLT Executive Director Norma Jean Sawyer closed out the public input period with a historical perspective of the issues involved.

After the public input the Commissioners spent over an hour dissecting the request, analyzing many factors both pertinent and superfluous to the issue at hand. Wheeler and Norma Jean returned to the podium several times to answer questions and clarify some of the points being raised. Though the questioning became contentious at times, the directors kept their cool and answered all questions -- but corrected any erroneous conclusions or opinions expressed by the commissioners.

The BCCLT directors agreed that the 1995 and 1998 plans and agreements between the CRA and the BCCLT needed to be updated and supported plans by the City to begin the process of doing so. They also made it clear that the BCCLT considers the City to be partners in their mission and urged that any contentiousness be muted.

In the end, after about 2 hours, the Commissioners (acting as the CRA) approved the reimbursement unanimously.