Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake City Planning for Future Downtown
County Commission MIA

Community Redevelopment round table -- Columbia County MIA
At yesterday morning’s governmental focus group the Columbia County Commission was invited and chose not show up, not to send the County Manager or any other representative of the County government. The lack of County interest in the downtown of Lake City continues.

Thursday morning Lake City's Community Redevelopment Agency met with governmental leaders to discuss the downtown redevelopment plan for Lake City. IBI's master planner, Kurt Easton, led the focus group. Billed as a governmental focus group, Lake City was represented by the Mayor, City Manager, Councilman Ward and City Clerk Audrey Sikes and others. Neither County Manager Dale Williams, nor any County Commissioner made an appearance. City Manager Wendell Johnson told the group, "I wish the county was here -- they were invited."

For more on the LC CRA and master plan go here.

Mr. Easton explained the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA):

The CRA is defined by a border based on slum and blight. It is defined in the Florida statutes. When the area is defined the value is defined by the tax base. As the program evolves year after year, presumably the value increases over time, by appreciation and if the program is successful, through development and investment. As the area improves, the tax base, or the value increases. The difference between the base year tax value and the increase over time is called the tax increment. That is folded into a trust fund and those resources are allocated to projects that are identified in your plan. (Still confused? Go here.)

For the past five years the revenues of Lake City's CRA have been about $200,000 a year.

Mr. Easton: "At $200,000 we are not talking about a substantial amount of revenue, especially if you are talking about capital improvements, so we are trying to build the tax base, which will increase the amount of revenue to work with."

Mr. Easton explained that yesterday's focus group of business leaders thought that public safety and crime in the northern Lake City area was a problem.

Mr. Easton:  "People seem to think that until we remove the crime or perception of crime in that area, the program will not be successful."

Police Chief GilmorePolice Chief Gilmore explained the police are at work:  "We have stats on that... the quality of life in the area is the problem."

Mr. Easton said that tax increment revenue can be used to support the police. 

Police Chief Gilmore:  "If we can create a new atmosphere things will turn around."

There is no public transportation to bring people to work

Florida Crown's Anna MendozaAnna Mendoza of Florida Crown's Employer Services represented Florida Crown at the meeting. 

Ms. Mendoza brought up the important issue of transportation. She explained that a lot of people don’t have cars or driver's licenses and if they want to get to work, they can’t get there because there is no public transportation.

Suwannee Valley Transit, run out of Live Oak, is the area's local transit agency. It is poorly run, does not take advantage of the funding streams that are available to it and now only transfers Medicaid and medical patients, refusing to pick up any other passengers on its routes.

Mr. Easton said that a basic public transportation system would go a long way.

The City Utility

Mr. Easton:  "There was concern voiced yesterday about the city’s utility distribution system."

City Manager Wendell JohnsonCity Manager Wendell Johnson:  "There is a misconception about the condition of the city’s utility infrastructure. We have a brand new water plant that has capacity for the next fifteen years, not only for the city, but for large portions of the county as well. We will have a new waste water treatment plant with a permitted capacity of 3,000,000 gallons with a design capacity for six. We’ve laid the foundation for funding... I am convinced that our transmission lines are not going to be an impediment to the development in the CRA."

City Manager Johnson concluded:  "I hope that whatever we do that we take into consideration that we need to have goals and objectives for the redevelopment of the residential areas."

Lake City's popular Mayor Steve Witt:  "I think that it is a great thing that we are doing. We have a lot of potential. It is a good time to deal with the negatives."

City Manager Johnson:  "We have a reserve fund that can have an impact if it is used wisely. I have a vision of getting everybody involved."

Mr. Easton explained that since he has been in Lake City he keeps hearing, "Keep government downtown."

Mr. Easton said, "We want to keep government downtown."

"It takes strong leadership and fortitude."

Master Planner Kurt EastonAs an example of what it takes to succeed, Mr. Easton spoke about another community IBI is currently working with:  They are committed... They put their money where their mouth is... They follow through. It is fortitude and commitment."

Mr. Easton:  "For these things to be successful everybody has to work together and come together. It takes strong leadership and fortitude in making tough policy decisions as you move forward."

After the meeting CRA Director, Jackie Kite, could barely contain her enthusiasm: "I'm excited. I'm very, very excited. We are moving forward and I am excited about Lake City."

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More on Columbia County Economic Development:

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Columbia County Economic Development: Will Lake City continue as the "red-headed step child?" (August 4, 2011)

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FL Economic Development Czar Speaks - Musical chairs on the deck of the Titanic? (July 24, 2011)

Columbia County: Garbage Capital of North Central Florida? (June 7, 2011)

Tallahassee: Economic Development Legislative Session Wrap-up (May 31, 2011)

Florida's Economic Development Czar Came to Columbia County - Really (May 31, 2011)

Columbia County Economic Development Blowin' in the wind - 20 years too late (March 2, 2011)

Economic Development in their own words (Jan 24, 2011)

FL Enterprise Zones under the gun (Jan 23, 2011)

County & IDA Drop the Ball - Again (Jan 05, 2011)

Columbia County's inland port decades late (Jan 03, 2010)

Columbia County ranks 5th in the nation in the unemployed (Dec 18, 2010)

IDA Continues sub par under County management (Nov 29, 2010)

County Economic Development
Making it up as they go along
(Oct 06, 2010)

Lake City Planning for Future Downtown - County Commission MIA (June 25, 2010)

The Great Columbia County Dog and Pony Show (June 02, 2010)

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