Monday, July 22, 2013

Biggest Bang for the taxpayer Buck: Housekeeping or Central Planning

Recently, the Tribune wrote about former Port Authority Chairman Hoe Brown's “trashy trailers”.  Brown resigned his Port Authority position and was forced to shut down his trailer park.
William "Hoe" Brown, a Republican fund-raiser and Hillsborough County's representative to the state party, resigned Friday from the Tampa Port Authority following revelations this week that he owned and collected rent at a trailer park where residents lived in squalor.
That's fine with the Eye.  We should hold all our public servants to a high standard.

The Trib also reported on July 18 that Tampa Mayor Buckhorn ordered a slumlord crackdown.
Starting Sunday, code enforcement crews will begin street-by-street sweeps through northern and eastern Tampa aimed at finding code violations and ticketing the violators. 
Mayor Bob Buckhorn said Thursday the 30-day effort is targeting slum lords and other property owners deemed "the worst of the worst."
Standing in front of the garbage pile, Buckhorn said the time has come to clean up the neighborhoods of central and north Tampa from Grant Park through Seminole Heights and Castle Heights. 
He directed his comments to absentee "slumlords" and uncaring home and land owners who let blight take over their properties.
So the Eye went to the City of Tampa Code Enforcement website to find out just what they do:
Code Enforcement responds to concerns from citizens that affect the quality of life within the city such as zoning, overgrown lots or yards, inoperative vehicles, maintenance of structures, illegal signs and public nuisances. Systematic inspections are also performed throughout the city to ensure properties are in compliance with city code. In addition, Code Enforcement regulates rental properties in Tampa by certifying landlords are in compliance with the Florida State Minimum Housing Standards.
We agree with these community housekeeping efforts to get rid of public nuisances. Complying with our local code ordinances help retain property values and prevent blight that devalues surrounding properties. 
Urban blight -- Just clean it up!
And that brings us back to last year when Hillsborough County Commissioner Victor Crist proposed a grandiose scheme called Innovation Destination to revive blighted neighborhoods in the University/Suit Case City area and some surrounding areas.    According to the Tribune last year:
Crist says tax incentives and a variety of other mechanisms would be used to fund improvements, attract private investment, create jobs and stabilize neighborhoods. With USF at the heart of the zone, he envisions it being attractive to innovative enterprises.
Crist stated these areas were like “third world countries” when he announced his proposal at a BOCC meeting last May.  Really?  Because Commissioner Crist's idea seems to have lost steam and fizzled at this point. In May this year the Tribune reported Progress sluggish on rejuvenating USF zone.
A two-year effort to plan for an innovative business zone surrounding USF has struggled to get off the ground, with too many groups pushing their visions for the project.
The article stated that apparently no one knows how to create Crist's vision of Innovation Destination as the vision began to change.
But competing interests emerged and started pushing for a broader focus than simply attracting business, fixing sidewalks and adding landscaping. He (Crist) and the nonprofit University Area Community Development Corp. pushed hard for a social services component for the new innovation zone, one that would alleviate the crime and poverty in the district.
Here at the Eye we predicted schemes that size would be difficult, if ever, to get off the ground, especially in our uncertain economy. And putting taxpayers at risk may also not be the wisest strategy. We must note that the USF area is not in Crist's district but his nonprofit University Area Community Development Corp that Crist founded is located there. This nonprofit has been funded almost 100% by taxpayer dollars over it's entire lifetime. Did that weigh into why Crist and the nonprofit were pushing hard for the social services component?

Let's take the Buckhorn approach and do some community housekeeping in the USF area. See if that helps to stabilize the neighborhoods, retain property values and attract businesses and jobs back into the community.  The biggest bang for the buck in the USF area is to start with the smaller stuff like code enforcement.

We applaud Mayor Buckhorn's efforts and hope he will continue the focus after the 30 day sweep.

Sharon Calvert

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