Panama City Beach city council extends CRA

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PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. — The debate over Panama City Beach’s CRA came to a head on Thursday, as city council members voted to extend the plan until 2049.

“We need to go ahead and get it started,” said Panama City Beach Mayor Mike Thomas. “Get the extension going so we can finish it and benefit everybody.”

The decision came after Bay County commissioners asked the council to hold off on the vote, so they could meet to discuss the details of the extension together.

Page 1 of letter written to Panama City Beach council by Bay County officials asking to delay the vote to extend the CRA
Page 2 of letter written to Panama City Beach council by Bay County officials asking to delay the vote to extend the CRA

The amount on the checks is based off of county property taxes for homes in the project area, which are redirected back to the CRA. The city of Panama City Beach does not collect a property tax, so a percentage of the property taxes those residents pay to Bay County gets put back into the CRA.

The extension means Bay County will continue to write the city checks for the Front Beach Road improvement and beautification projects. Those checks have been getting bigger since the CRA was created in 2001.

Since property values in that area have mainly gone up since 2001, the amount of money sent to the county in property taxes has also increased, meaning larger payouts to the city by the county.

If that trend continues like it has through the now extended CRA until 2049, the county projects they will have paid the city $800 million; almost eight times more than the CRA’s original cost estimate.

“The county at some point will have to raise millage to pay for the CRA and that’s not something we can live with,” said Griff Griffitts, a Bay County commissioner. “We have to figure that out before that option even hits our table.”

It wasn’t just Bay County asking to delay the decision; some council members also thought waiting would be a good idea for different reasons.

“If you extend years out, to me things are put on the backburner,” said Councilman Phil Chester, who voted against the extension. “We had a commitment, 13 years left, and we should have honored that commitment.”

He and Councilman Geoff McConnell voted against the extension, but they lost three votes to two.

Drawing of completed Front Beach Road CRA Projects
Source: City of Panama City Beach

Now, Bay County and Panama City Beach officials will meet to discuss how to move forward in a way that works for them both.

“We’re huge proponents of the CRA, we want to see the project completed,” said Griffitts. “But we have to sit down and get a number that both parties can live with.”

Completion status of Panama City Beach CRA as of September 26th, 2019
Source: City of Panama City Beach

If they’re unable to come to an agreement, the issue will move to mediation.
County officials say they hope it doesn’t come to that.

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