ORANGE COUNTY – Local government leaders have accused state lawmakers of seeking to pass numerous bills — both in the 2017 and 2018 legislative sessions — that aim to erode home rule.
And municipal leaders said they have had enough of Tallahassee’s continual attack on their authority and ability to regulate issues they believe should be left at the local level.
During a press conference held Feb. 9 at Orlando City Hall, mayors from several local jurisdictions voiced their grievances in an attempt to draw attention to what they believe is a pressing matter that affects residents in not only Orange County but also the state.
“Our residents need to know their right to self-governance is being attacked, and we need their help,” said Windermere Mayor Gary Bruhn, also the president of the Florida League of Cities, an organization that advocates for self-government. “You’re probably saying, ‘Why are we gathered here today?’ ... I want our residents to know and understand that their right to self-governance is being attacked — everything from CRAs, to when they can vote, to who can live next door to them and create a hotel.”
Bruhn and the accompanying mayors identified several bills they insist would strip away local government authority and hinder their ability to protect and provide for their residents.
One such bill, Senate Bill 574 and its companion, House Bill 521, would abolish local tree ordinances that dictate whether or not private property owners need to pay for a permit to cut down a tree and what, if any, mitigation is required.
Another bill, H.B. 17, would eliminate existing Community Redevelopment Agencies by 2037. CRAs are governmental bodies created to promote economic development in blighted areas using a percentage of the property taxes paid by residents of a community, which is then invested into the underserved area.
“Tools that are helped to revitalize cities, called CRAs, are currently under attack,” Bruhn said. “There are currently 222 CRAs in the state of Florida. CRAs allow cities to improve communities by implementing projects, such as neighborhood parks, building renovations and affordable housing. CRAs do not rely on state funding. They do not require federal funding; (funding) is provided by the tax collected from the old area.”
Other proposed state legislation would affect local governments’ ability to regulate businesses, rules on short-term rental homes and choose its own election days – issues that the mayors in attendance agreed should not be decided by “legislators hundreds of miles away.”
“Our elected officials under senate and house leadership have lost their way,” said Leary. “They need to come home and reconnect with the people who sent them there – the people who voted them there.”
When asked about the likelihood that these bills will pass, Bruhn said he suspects they all stand a very strong chance of being signed into law.
“It’s looking pretty dismal,” he said. “That’s why you see this sense of urgency on our part.”