Largo commissioners, state lawmakers meet to talk local issues
LARGO — City commissioners and state legislators discussed issues from homestead exemptions to community redevelopment Tuesday during a meeting meant to foster a better relationship after a legislative session widely seen as devastating to local governments.
Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, and representatives Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Larry Ahern, R-Seminole, attended the meeting at City Hall.
Mayor Woody Brown kicked off the conversation voicing his concerns over the erosion of home rule through several bills that came out of the session, pointing to examples including a House proposal to phase out community redevelopment agencies over the next 20 years.
Brown expanded on that topic later, pointing to the city’s downtown community redevelopment district as a successful venture to improve the area at a low cost to the city.
“It’s disappointing to this body that there’s legislation targeting the program, not the people that are breaking the laws,” Brown said, referencing CRAs in other parts of the state that are under investigation.
Brandes defended the idea to abolish, saying that too many bad ideas have stuck around for too long and adding that if Largo’s continues to the successful, officials could ask the legislature for a renewal. Ahern agreed, saying some agencies such as Clearwater’s have dedicated staffs and budgets that come at a cost to taxpayers.
Another topic that came up was a property tax cut in the form of a homestead exemption increase that will go before voters as a referendum in November 2018. Largo budget officials have said it would result in a $650,000 loss in tax revenue and, with it, cuts to city services.
Brandes said he’s always in favor of lower taxes and that Floridians are struggling to make ends meet.
Brown pushed back that the exemption increase would apply only to residents with a property value of $100,000 or more.
“And those aren’t the people that need a tax cut,” he said.