Two weeks have passed since the Apopka city Commission voted to table a motion regarding the granting of a STIF district near the 414 and Marden Road area. MMI Development is asking for this because they are offering to build an interchange in that area, giving easier access to their development projects, and by extension, the new Florida Hospital currently under construction. Synthetic tax incremental financing districts create funding for public/private projects by borrowing against FUTURE increase in tax revenue created by businesses and other projects expected to move to the district because of the main project; in this case, an interchange. That is why these are gambles at best; we are being asked to hedge our bets and quite possible, our futures, to obtain instant gratification and not worry about what tomorrow holds. What tomorrow could hold is a sluggish or failing economy; plans and visions that change; bankruptcies. What tomorrow could hold is Apopka taxpayers with a millstone around our necks that could take years, if not decades to remove.
Two weeks have passed, and this item is once again on the Apopka City Council meeting agenda for this Wednesday Sept 2, at 1:30 pm. This agreement was given to the Commission about 4 weeks ago; both Commissioner Arrowsmith and Commissioner Ruth were right to ask questions about an agreement that clearly neither fully understood. Mayor Kilsheimer’s smug reply to these questions was that the City had been negotiating this agreement for over 9 months, and to push this project back anymore would be “unfair” to those already counting on this agreement. The consensus was that the City was not saying NO to this agreement, only that more time was needed to study and understand this complex agreement and thus a motion to table this until the next meeting. The next meeting is upon us; have the Commissioners had time to fully review this agreement and get satisfactory answers to their questions? Does this agreement sufficiently protect the taxpayers of Apopka, or will we be stuck with a huge mistake if this gamble doesn’t pay off. The Mayor, CAO Irby and City Attorney Shephard would do well to answer any questions raised thoughtfully and respectfully, not in the arrogant, almost mocking tone taken lately with people who dare ask questions. Questions I have: Who is counting on the agreement? Why are these people or entities counting on this agreement to go through? Have certain commitment already been made to others before an agreement was even presented to the Citizens of Apopka for a vote?
The big question remains: who will actually benefit from this STIF, the taxpayers of Apopka or MMI Development. If this is not a mutually beneficial agreement to all involved, especially the Apopka taxpayer, I would respectfully ask our Commissioners to vote NO on this STIF.
Well, well, well.. guess what issue has reared it’s ugly head one more time? The John Land Apopka Community Trust Fund. I’ve been asking questions for almost a year about this fund, and also asking WHY we can’t get the simplest of answers. As of tonight’s writing, here is what we know. The name of the Apopka Trust Fund was amended to read John Land Apopka Community Trust Fund via paperwork filed with the State of Florida on May 26, 2015, a full year after the vote came from the Apopka City commission to establish this fund and make a substantial deposit with taxpayer money.
The president of this not for profit fund is Richard Anderson (former CAO of Apopka and now a well compensated lobbyiest/consultant for our City.) The Vice president is John Ricketson, publisher/owner of The Apopka Chief. Secretary is David Rankin who is employed with Iberian Bank (where the money apparently resides); Treasure is Clifton Addison. Directors are listed as: Elise Gruber, Doug Bankson, Mary Kruger, Edward Bass (who is also listed as Current Registered Agent) and Bill Mcleod (whose law firm filed the original legal paperwork). The current mailing address is 1420 W. Orange Blossom Trail, Apopka, FL 32712, which is the Iberian Bank and the address listed for all the officers and directors. This is what we know.
NOW, on to what we don’t know and cannot seem to get answers for no matter how hard we try. How much of the original $200,000.00 of TAXPAYER-Funded money that was used as seed money to get this fund going is actually left? Who appointed the original trustees and board members? Has a meeting of this Board taken place yet? Are minutes of these meetings or the meetings themselves open to the taxpaying public? What are the guidelines or procedures for dispersing money? And I understand this trust fund was converted from a PUBLIC to a PRIVATE trust fund? Why was that? Was it to avoid having to answers questions beyond who and where? What is being hidden from the public? Earlier today, during a Facebook post announcement of a retirement party for Apopka Chief Manley, it was suggested that tax deductable contributions could be made to the John Land Apopka Community Trust Fund. Please note Chief Manley was NOT involved in this request.
Citizens were fired up, rightly asking why should we contribute to a fund we know nothing about? Until the Board members involved in this fund start answering questions about what happened to the $200,000.00 of taxpayer money taken from the General Fund, they cannot seriously expect people to contribute another DIME to this Trust fund. There have been calls for this Trust Fund to return the tax-payer portion of the money back to the City, giving the Board time to prepare guidelines and procedure for distribution of the monies, establishing the purpose of the fund, and plans for transparency. This action seems to be the prudent thing to do and would also serve to restore some modicum of trust and encourage people to make contributions to this fund without reservation or question where or who are the true beneficiaries of this trust fund money.
The Agenda for this week’s Apopka City Commission meeting is again jam-packed. The one that should raise some concerns is the 2nd reading of Ordinance #2446, regarding the creation of a synthetic tax incremental financing district near Marsden Road and SR 414. Appropriately, the acronym for this is STIF. Government entities use these STIFs as a public/private partnership tool to advance economic and development goals. STIF’s create funding for public/private projects by borrowing against the future increase in property tax revenues of the businesses and other projects expected to come to the area because of the specific project. A district can be drawn around an area hundreds or thousands of acres beyond the project site to provide the needed borrowing capacity and revenues. Originally designed to revive blighted or depressed areas, more and more STIF’s are used where development would happen anyway, such as development areas at the edges of cities.
The specific STIF on our agenda is being requested for the construction of a “half interchange” from SR 414 to connect with Marden Road. A very complicated cost sharing agreement between the City and the developer, MMI Development was drafted and it is this agreement that will be considered and voted on by the City Commission this Wednesday. The agreement is a 10 page document full of legalize, complicated cost formulas and other matters that cannot be read and understood in one reading. It appears that initial funding would come from the City’s Transportation Impact Fee Fund and then a complicated series of credits. Per the accompanying greensheet with the Agenda packet, “other development within the newly created STIF paying transportation Impact fees would be transferred to MMI Development to be credited toward the City’s shared portion of the interchange”. All of this money will be deposited into a separate trust fund. In exchange for all this money, the Developer will make the permit and other arrangements for construction of the interchange. The District is to last 10 years with the City assuming an administrative role.
Getting back to one of the criticisms, it seems this particular district has been drawn up where development would already be occurring, thanks to separate construction of the new Florida Hospital. In fact, MMI Development, in conjunction with Emerson-MMI, already has received approvals for various housing and apartment projects in this same area. It is only a matter of time before other medical offices, clinics and perhaps some retail also spring up in that area. I wonder who the largest beneficiary of this Tax District will be, the citizens of Apopka or MMI Development.
STIFs are touted as a new tool Cities can use to promote development and promises of no new taxes, but side effects can include increased road, sewer, schools and other public costs due to the new developments that Taxpayers will be paying for many years down the road. The gamble could pay off in the long run, but it may not. And if all the development near the new Hospital would be taking place anyway, I have to wonder if this Tax Financing District is really necessary, or if Apopka taxpayers are being asked to take a gamble on a very risky house of cards and end up instead, holding a very costly bag. I hope STIF does not end up STIFfing Apopka taxpayers.