Winter Garden leaders discussed their latest concerns over bills being considered by the Florida Legislature that involve the authority of cities and counties to pass local laws.
City leaders’ concerns chiefly involved the potential threat to local government authority over community redevelopment agencies (CRA). CRAs are local governmental bodies that promote the redevelopment of underserved areas of a city or county using funds that stem from a percentage of property taxes paid by a community's residents which is then invested into other areas.
Winter Garden City Attorney Kurt Ardaman said the Florida House of Representatives already had passed a bill related to CRAs: House Bill 883.
According to a description on flhouse.gov, HB 883 establishes ethics-training requirements for CRA commissioners, requires municipalities to petition the legislature if it wishes to create a new CRA, and requires the Department of Economic Opportunity to declare inactive CRAs that have not reported financial activity for a specified number of years.
HB 883 is now waiting for approval of the companion bill –Bill 1348 – from the Florida Senate before it goes to Florida Gov. Rick Scott for a signature, Ardaman said.
“The bill in the senate is Bill 1348,” Ardaman said. “That’s the one that’s the issue right now, Earlier, it was proposed that that bill have changes to the CRA legislation and changes to the Community Development District (legislation).”
Ardaman added that, as of the March 8 city commission meeting, SB 1348 was brought back to the state Senate for a third reading “with a proposal that it only consider Community Development District issues, not CRA matters.”
“However, they can certainly change that at the third reading,” Ardaman said. “The expectation and hope is – with continued pressure from cities and counties across the state – that the Senate will not include anything related to the CRAs when they take it up for the third time … but they just limit it to CDDs.”
If the Senate does include CRA matters into SB 1348 during the third reading and passes the bill, the governor could use his veto power on SB 1348 and HB 883 or parts of them. And if the governor does use his veto power on the bills, it would require a two-thirds vote from both legislative chambers to overturn the veto.
“We don’t want to have to go to the governor and ask the governor to veto such a bad bill, so that’s why we’re fighting right now,” Ardaman said. “The Legislature is taking pot shots at us … the best government is the government closest to the people, which is our cities.”
City Manager Mike Bollhoefer also expressed his concerns over the bills.
“From a staff perspective, this is very, very important for the city of Winter Garden,” Bollhoefer said. "(We need) overwhelming force when you’re dealing with an issue like this. … The home rule thing is very important to cities. Your cities’ (government) are the governments that are closest to the people and best represent them. We’re seeing the Florida House up there continually trying to undermine (cities) and take away our ability to provide for our residents, and that’s a shame.”
Ardaman and Bollhoefer both implored commissioners to reach out to legislators to voice their concerns. Commissioners agreed and Mayor John Rees said he had been in contact with Florida House District 44 Rep. Bobby Olszewski and came up with some talking points to discuss with him.
As of noon Friday, March 9, SB 1348 is still waiting for its third reading, according to flsenate.gov.