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CRA Contemplates $18.5 Million Bond Issue to Fund City Improvements

 

Last updated 9/15/2021 at 12:12pm

A bond issuance exceeding $18 million dollars is contemplated under an agreement being considered by the Lake Wales Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) at their next meeting Wednesday evening. Funds from the bond sale would be utilized for a variety of Community Redevelopment projects within the boundaries of the CRA, including the Lake Wales Connected plan.

Under the award-winning Connected concept, the CRA plans to revamp several blocks of Park Avenue between Scenic Highway and Wetmore Street, as well as a second phase including some 3,000 feet of North First Street from Stuart Avenue to Dr. James A Wiltshire Avenue. Plans for First Street are presently being finalized through a series of public-input opportunities. Plans were developed under the direction of Dover Kohl and Partners, a leading urban design and city planning firm.

The five CRA directors will also consider adoption of their fiscal year 2021-2022 budget, which commences October 1. It includes capital outlay of $9,115,000, of which five million will be spent on reconstruction of Park Avenue and The Marketplace. Another $2.5 million will be spent on sidewalks and street trees in the long-neglected Northwest neighborhood.

"I think this is the time to strike while the iron is hot," Mayor Eugene Fultz told the LakeWalesNews.net, pointing out that record-low interest rates make long-term financing a bargain. He also lauded the City Finance Department, which won an award for last year's budget.

CRA law allows the Agency to capture the "tax increment" when rising property values generate new revenue. About 90% of both city and county taxes return to CRA coffers and must be spent solely upon improvements within the district. Those improvements in turn cause further increases in investment and property values, generating yet more tax increments in a self-sustaining upward cycle.

"An increase in property values is a virtual certainty," CRA Chairman Robin Gibson told LakeWalesNews.net. "That increase will retire the low-interest CRA bonds, and once again we will have pulled off major improvements without ever tapping the City’s general revenues."

The CRA currently receives about $1.2 million annually with significant increases expected. "We have the money (from tax increments) to pay this off without touching reserves," Fultz said. "No general revenue is going into this."

CRA funds are also being pledged to aid in the reconstruction of the aging Grove Manor public housing apartment project, which will be replaced by a mix of affordable, market rate, and subsidized housing. The new construction will allow for a design of new tree-shaded streets in a traditional-style neighborhood. That project is dependent on the receipt of federal funding in a competitive statewide process. City contributions allow the proposal to earn a higher ranking.

The CRA is presently retiring debt from a 2007 issuance with annual service of $692,623. That debt will be paid off in 2027, at which point the long-term debt service payments will drop to $541,516. During the interim six years total CRA debt service will average $1.2 million annually, a figure closely matching annual revenue.

Mayor Fultz saluted Gibson in his comments, stating that he "has brought integrity back to the CRA" and that "the money is now being used as intended."

The agenda item contemplates retaining the law firm of Bryant Miller Olive, PA (BMO) to represent them in the bond transaction. The firm's website states that "for 50 years, Bryant Miller Olive has represented governments, businesses and agencies in legal matters relating to public finance, state and local government law, complex transactions, project finance, and litigation."

The CRA board consists of the five city commissioners in a different role. Their 5:30 meeting precedes the regular 6:00 pm commission gathering. It was moved to Wednesday from its usual Tuesday schedule due to the Labor Day holiday.

 

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