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Business Observer Friday, Mar. 21, 2008 10 years ago

Gulf Coast Week

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New Job Corps opens: A groundbreaking ceremony was held recently for the new $40 million Pinellas County Job Corps Center in St. Petersburg.Urban boundary compromise: A potentially contentious and expensive battle over future growth in Sarasota County east of Interstate 75 could be on the verge of being avertedManatee fee increases: Permit fees for new homes being built in Manatee County will be going up about 61% starting March 31Lee declines to lower taxes: Lee County commissioners recently decided they would not roll back taxes on new construction, also known as "impact fees."Affordable-housing plan fails: Lee County commissioners have abandoned plans to impose fees on commercial construction to pay for affordable housingNaples' 'cheap' home sales: Sales of single-family existing homes priced below $300,000 surged 67% in the Naples area, a real estate group reported.Tax reform goes to voters: Florida voters will likely have a chance to vote on one of the biggest property tax cuts ever in the state this November, the result of an amendment proposed by a state commission studying tax issues.

Gulf Coast Week

TAMPA BAY

New Job Corps opens

A groundbreaking ceremony was held recently for the new $40 million Pinellas County Job Corps Center in St. Petersburg.

The nine-building campus will include vocational education facilities, a recreation center, gymnasium, administrative offices, a student service center, and two dormitories. It will be one of five centers in the state of Florida and the 123rd for the U.S. Department of Labor.

The U.S. Department of Labor says the center is expected to create more than 100 jobs and contribute about $7 million a year to the local economy.

SARASOTA/MANATEE

Urban boundary compromise

A potentially contentious and expensive battle over future growth in Sarasota County east of Interstate 75 could be on the verge of being averted, as a group of local developers have reached a compromise on some issues with a group of slow-growth advocates.

The issue revolves around what's known as the Urban Service Boundary - the line between urban and rural development in Sarasota County that roughly follows I-75. For the past few months, a group headed by Sarasota attorney Bill Earl, Citizens for Sensible Growth, had been promoting an initiative that would have required county residents to approve every density increase request in land east of the boundary lines through a referendum vote. Earl's group was hoping to get the question on a May 6 ballot for county voters to decide.

But several of the region's prominent developers and homebuilders, in particular Pat Neal and Henry Rodriguez, were working in opposition to that proposal, forming a group known as Citizens for Quality Living. The group raised more than $100,000 to fight the issue.

In meetings over the last few weeks though, Earl and Rodriguez formed a potential compromise: Earl's group would drop the petition issue and further agree to not launch any other citizen initiatives through 2014, while Rodriguez' side would agree that any density changes to the boundary lines would have to unanimously pass through the five-member county commission.

The compromise isn't official yet. The commission didn't vote on the proposal at its March 10 meeting, delaying any vote at least until a March 24 meeting and hearing.

Manatee fee increases

Permit fees for new homes being built in Manatee County will be going up about 61% starting March 31, from 28 cents per square foot to 45 cents per square foot. The increase means fees on an average size home in Manatee County will rise to about $1,440, from $914.

The fee increases could have been as much as 93%, to about 54 cents per square foot, which is what county building officials and some other officials initially proposed. But the Home Builders Association of Manatee County lobbied against an increase that large, instead hoping for an increase as low as five cents per square foot.

LEE/COLLIER

Lee declines to lower taxes

Lee County commissioners recently decided they would not roll back taxes on new construction, also known as "impact fees."

Instead, the commission voted to wait until a consultant determines later this year whether lowering taxes on new construction would help stimulate the local economy.

Neighboring counties such as Charlotte have rolled back impact fees to lower levels as a response to the declining construction market. Lee raised new-construction taxes last year, in some cases tripling the fees for certain kinds of projects.

Affordable-housing plan fails

Lee County commissioners have abandoned plans to impose fees on commercial construction to pay for affordable housing, according to the Real Estate Investment Society in Fort Myers, which led the effort against the initiative.

In addition, commissioners agreed not to proceed with requirements to include affordable housing in new developments, a concept called "inclusionary zoning."

Instead, commissioners will review other options, such as boosting density bonuses, funding community land trusts and lowering taxes on construction.

Naples' 'cheap' home sales

Sales of single-family existing homes priced below $300,000 surged 67% in the Naples area, a real estate group reported.

The Naples Area Board of Realtors reported 76 homes priced under $300,000 sold in February compared with 43 in the same month a year ago. Despite the jump in sales of more-affordable homes, overall sales of existing single-family homes dropped 15% to 127 in February compared with 149 in February 2007. The number of existing single-family homes sold in every price category above $300,000 declined in February compared with the same month a year ago.

Combined with the increase in sales of more-affordable single-family homes, the median sales price fell 8% in February to $406,000.

Tax reform goes to voters

Florida voters will likely have a chance to vote on one of the biggest property tax cuts ever in the state this November, the result of an amendment proposed by a state commission studying tax issues.

The proposal, crafted by the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, is essentially a compromise version of an issue that commission member and Bradenton real estate broker John McKay has been pushing for several years, going back to when he was a state senator. The crux of McKay's position has been to swap outdated sales tax exclusions and exemptions for the portion of property taxes known as local required effort, which goes to statewide school funding.

The proposed amendment approved by the commission at a March 17 meeting doesn't go as far as McKay's initial proposal, although it's a tax swap involving property taxes. Instead, this amendment would require the state Legislature to make up for the money not received in property taxes by increasing the state sales tax 1%, eliminating certain exemptions and cutting the budget in other ways.

The 25-member commission, which is formed every 20 years, approved the amendment proposal by a 21-4 vote. If approved by voters in November, it could cut the average property tax bill in the state by as much as 25%.

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