BY BUDDY NEVINS
Pay attention, Fort Lauderdale residents.
This one could cost you money….forever.
Fort Lauderdale commissioners are considering giving the Fort Lauderdale trolley project almost unlimited ability to tax you….no matter where you live in the city.
So charges Eric Hersh, who lives in the Las Olas River House after almost a dozen years as Weston’s mayor.
Hersh looked at the language to approve the project being considered by Fort Lauderdale City Commissioners next Tuesday and was shocked.
“This is an opened ended ordinance to do special assessments anywhere in the city for mass transit. What they are selling the public isn’t what’s written in the resolution,” Hersh said in an interview with Browardbeat.com.
He says homeowners should strongly consider the downside of the project – taxes.
“There is no benefits for the residents in this. Maybe in 20 years. Maybe,” Hersh said.
The trolley is a transit system winding from downtown Fort Lauderdale to Broward General Medical Center and maybe someday the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. A link to its website is here.
Asked to examine the project by fellow Las Olas River House residents, Hersh found:
“Everything they are selling to residents is not what’s being presented. The residents need to be protected, but what (commissioners) have in front of them is basically a blank check.”
He fired off an e-mail to city commissioners and others late Thursday night after the language of the proposal was released.
Here it is.
City of Ft. Lauderdale
As a resident of Downtown Ft. Lauderdale, I have some serious concerns about the proposed ordinance and resolution establishing and levying the special tax for the Wave transportation system.
During public meetings, both with the DDA and members of the commission, what is being discussed publicly is NOT consistent with the ordinance and / or resolution being presented by City staff. After numerous discussions and meetings with representatives of the DDA, there appears to be no effort by city staff to accommodate these concerns, therefore, I would request that the City Commission direct staff to amend the ordinance to address these issues.
My specific concerns are as follows:
1- The residential portion of the special assessment is being advertised as $99 per year maximum. Further, it has been said that with additional units being completed, this assessment would likely come down due to these additional units.
In fact, this is NOT what would happen. The proposed 30% allocation to residential is based on the just value of residential vs commercial and undeveloped land. This just value allocation would be re-calculated yearly, and therefore, since the developed residential units will also add to the just value, the percentage of assessment allocated to residential could easily rise, therefore REDUCING the commercial allocation, and INCREASING the residential. Further, if the commercial land values don’t rise as fast as residential, in fact, the assessment could be higher than $99 per unit. Considering the permitted residential units on the books right now, there is much more planned development of residential vs commercial, so clearly, the RESIDENTIAL COMPONANT will go up in future years. This is NOT what has been promised.
Further, this justification puts an equal benefit to residents and businesses, as it’s 1 to 1 proportionate to the just valuations. No reasonable person could argue that the benefit of the Wave is not higher for business than for residents. The residential should be locked in at 30% of debt service, and divided by the total residential units in the district.
2- We have been told that this district would only be responsible for phase 1 of the Wave, and that future expansion would not be the responsibility of the this district. That is not what the proposed ordinance or resolution states. The ordinance sets the stage for this AND future assessments, without the need for further legislation. Nowhere does it say that the assessments are limited to this phase, nor that cost overruns, or other improvements won’t be part of this assessment. That is NOT what is being advertised to the public.
3- The promises being made to residents should be in the enacting ordinance, not in the resolution. This should be a matter of law. There is no reason that future mass transit assessments can’t be as an amendment to the ordinance, or in new ordinances. The City has refused to do this, as they have attempted to provide the ability to RAISE TAXES through this assessment without enacting more legislation. The bottom line is that this is nothing more than an increase in taxes, and as such, it should be exactly as being told to the public. This ordinance and resolution does not do that.
4- There is no proper justification for the boundaries of the district. It makes no sense that the commercial property down east as far as 15th street on Las Olas do not participate in the assessment district. Certainly, those businesses will benefit by bringing more people downtown. (If you buy into the whole sales pitch). The Commission should expand the district to all those who could benefit, therefore reducing the burden to each. In fact, if the Wave is a benefit that would be as large as advertised, there could be an even larger area that should participate.
5- The City should consider using transportation sales tax revenue to provide the city’s required share. This could be bonded out, and would reduce the need to further raise taxes.
6- It has been said that the benefit to the residents is that it will increase valuations of property. I believe your council will advise that potential increase in resale value is NOT valid justification for a special benefit tax. In fact, the benefit to residents, within phase 1 of the Wave, is non-existent, and the benefit methodology report is vague at best in justifying any benefit to residents. I personally do not believe that if challenged, this portion of the assessment would hold up.
It should be noted that the DDA made a valiant attempt to have city staff address these concerns, and while I appreciate their efforts, it was to no avail. It is my opinion that if the public fully understood the unlimited nature of this assessment, and the likely increasing responsibility of residential units on the overall assessments, there would be an uproar to say the least. Having spent 19 years in public service, I truly believe that the only thing that is worse than raising taxes, is not being upfront as to the taxes being raised now and in the future.
I appreciate you taking the time to consider this issues, and I respectfully request that the protections suggested above be written into the ordinance itself.
Eric M. Hersh