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Business Observer Friday, Feb. 15, 2008 10 years ago

Gulf Coast Week

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Eroding revenue: Now that Florida voters have overwhelmingly approved Amendment 1, city and county governments are finding themselves faced with a double-whammyMacDill modernization: More than a dozen construction projects are under way or on the drawing board at MacDill Air Force Base in South Tampa.Bradenton, Palmetto transit: Government officials and planners for the cities of Bradenton and Palmetto are working together to find answers to traffic congestion issues.Clerk clarifications: The concept that a county's elected Clerk of the Court has oversight in all matters regarding how county commissioners spend money isn't as widespread as some state legislators would like it to be.Naples air service increase: Just months after Delta Airlines shut down its Naples operation, a second airline announced new passenger service.Lee housing permits anemic: Lee County issued 54 permits in January for single-family homes to be built in unincorporated Lee County, Bonita Springs and Fort Myers Beach.Lee's Horizon Council seeks diversification: Lee County has been hit hard by the real estate downturn and the county's economic development group said it plans to boost efforts to recruit other industries to the area.H&K chief to step down: Holland & Knight's controversial chief won't run for re-election next month, saying his decision is in the Florida law firm's "best interests."

Gulf Coast Week

TAMPA BAY

Eroding revenue

Now that Florida voters have overwhelmingly approved Amendment 1, city and county governments are finding themselves faced with a double-whammy: Amendment 1 will cut property taxes next year while other sources tied to the economy also are falling.

Sales tax collections are projected to be down almost 9% in Tampa and more than 10% in unincorporated Hillsborough County as recession-wary residents cut spending. Permit fees from housing starts are also down, along with other receipts.

So Tampa and Hillsborough governments will have to tighten their belts as the property tax amendment is expected to save Tampa property owners $12 million and Hillsborough property owners $70 million.

"There is a bigger picture here. Things are slowing down," Mayor Pam Iorio said

MacDill modernization

More than a dozen construction projects are under way or on the drawing board at MacDill Air Force Base in South Tampa.

The projects will cost $809 million, though not all the work has been funded. The work is needed to replace 1950s buildings and temporary trailers, which no longer meet MacDill's needs.

Construction began last year and is expected to continue through 2011. Among the projects under construction are a 268,000-square-foot Joint Intelligence Center, a 254,000-square-foot clinic and a 7,297-square-foot pharmacy expansion. The clinic is replacing the base's 1956 hospital.

With its $154 million price tag, the construction of 331 family housing units is the most expensive component. The work includes demolishing 512 ground-level units near the shores of Hillsborough Bay.

SARASOTA/MANATEE

Bradenton, Palmetto transit

Government officials and planners for the cities of Bradenton and Palmetto are working together to find answers to traffic congestion issues. And to get those answers, the pair of cities, in conjunction with the Sarasota-Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Florida Department of Transportation, recently formed the Bradenton/Palmetto Downtown Mobility Study.

The nine-month study is directed toward finding and evaluating transportation projects that improve circulation, access and traffic patterns in downtown Palmetto and Bradenton. Officials in both cities also hope the study identifies ways to make the area's busy roads safer for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Clerk clarifications

The concept that a county's elected Clerk of the Court has oversight in all matters regarding how county commissioners spend money isn't as widespread as some state legislators would like it to be.

So two legislators, including Rep. Michael Grant, R-Port Charlotte, are introducing a bill in the 2008 legislative session aimed at solidifying that concept. Grant's bill is joined by a similar one sponsored by Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Gainesville.

"The necessity for this legislation arose in response to circumstances where a board of county commissioners sued a clerk to keep him from auditing certain county funds," Grant said in a statement. "This pot of public dollars was being maintained outside of the custody of the county and spent without budget authority."

The proposed legislation clarifies several parts of a clerk's responsibilities, including keeping the county's financial statements, being the accountant for commissioners and serving as the county auditor. Gulf Coast area legislators that co-sponsored the legislation include Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa; Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater; and Rep. Peter Nehr, R-Tarpon Springs.

The Florida Association of Court Clerks and Comptrollers and Florida TaxWatch support the legislation, too.

"Florida's Clerks provide one of the few checks and balance processes that exist today," said Dominic Calabro, executive director of Florida TaxWatch, in a statement. "Their role must be clearly and effectively defined to continue protecting the short- and long-term interest of taxpayers and their hard-earned dollars."

LEE/COLLIER

Naples air service increase

Just months after Delta Airlines shut down its Naples operation, a second airline announced new passenger service.

Gulfstream International Airlines started regularly scheduled flights from Naples Municipal Airport to Tampa and Tallahassee on Feb. 14 with 19-passenger Beech 1900D prop planes. Gulfstream is a Continental Airlines partner and flies as Continental Connection.

In December, Vintage Props and Jets started regularly scheduled service to Tallahassee, Tampa and the Florida Keys.

Lee housing permits anemic

Lee County issued 54 permits in January for single-family homes to be built in unincorporated Lee County, Bonita Springs and Fort Myers Beach. That compares with 305 issued in January 2007, an 82% drop.

Despite the dramatic decline, builders hope that fewer new homes means the inventory of existing homes will shrink as people buy homes. That will set the stage for a recovery most expect next year.

The same is true for condos. The county issued 20 multi-family housing permits, compared with 224 in January 2007, a 91% decline.

Lee's Horizon Council seeks diversification

Lee County has been hit hard by the real estate downturn and the county's economic development group said it plans to boost efforts to recruit other industries to the area.

Ron Inge, president of Development Solutions in Fort Myers, will be spearheading the effort by the Horizon Council to recruit businesses in technology, life sciences and other industries in an effort to diversify the county's economic base. The council is a partnership between the county and businesses to help recruit and retain companies.

H&K chief to step down

Holland & Knight's controversial chief won't run for re-election next month, saying his decision is in the Florida law firm's "best interests."

In a memo to staff last week, managing partner Howell "Hal" Melton Jr. said that while he is confident he could win a second five-year term, he wants to avoid "dragging our firm through a potentially divisive election" and wishes to spend more time with his family. His successor will be chosen next month at the 1,150-lawyer firm's annual partners' meeting in Orlando.

The surprise announcement marks an end to a turbulent era in the firm's history. Elected in 2003, Melton earned both praise and scorn for a series of decisions that boosted Holland & Knight's profitability at the expense of rank-and-file morale.

The 56-year-old Winter Haven resident closed underperforming offices, demanded lawyers work longer hours, made it harder for associates to become partners and forced out some older, less productive attorneys.

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