By Patrick McCallister
For Hometown News
HOLLY HILL - The city commission, acting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, approved a $126,000 grant to Sunoco. In turn, the company will buy Rollie's Court Motel, 118 Ridgewood Ave., and tear it down.
"We're removing our blighted properties," John Penny, commissioner, said at the meeting. "There are several blighted motels, and this is one of them."
In an interview after the meeting, Jim McCroskey, city manager, said that about eight months ago the city's CRA elected to create a $500,000 fund to help buy dilapidated properties along Ridgewood Avenue.
"One of the recommended changes was to partner with anyone who wanted to replace one of the smaller motels with a business that meets our targeted business," he said.
After the meeting, Commissioner Donnie Moore said the investment was worthwhile, because he knows from experience that the older motels along Ridgewood attract criminal activity, such as drug sales and prostitution. He worked as an EMT for the city between 1995 and 2002.
"When I worked at the Holly Hill Fire Department, I was going to that hotel at least twice a shift," he said. "It's been a problem property for some time. What better place to start [removing blight] than at the city line and moving north?"
According to city records, the property was listed for sale at $475,000. The seller agreed to drop that $260,000. Sunoco will remove the motel and expand its gas station and convenience store at 102 N. Ridgewood Ave. Mr. McCroskey said the company has been in talks with the city about the proposed deal for about eight months. The city will also pay for some of Sunoco's demolition and redevelopment costs.
The money is not part of Holly Hill's general fund. A large portion of taxes paid in a community redevelopment area must be spent on economic-opportunity and infrastructure improvements to remove blight and encourage business development. Holly Hill has a CRA stretching along Ridgewood from its northern to southern borders.
Mr. McCroskey said the city is negotiating with two other businesses about grants to purchase decaying motels and turn them to other uses. He said those negotiations, since they involve early stages of real estate transactions, aren't subject to Florida's open records laws and declined to name the companies.
"We're trying to attract some call centers," he said. "Medical is another highly attractive business we're looking after."
In other business, the commission gave its second and final nod to the 2012-2013 fiscal budget and property-tax rate. In a 4-1 vote, the commission adopted a property-tax rate of $7.35 per $1,000 of non-exempt, accessed value, slightly less than the rollback rate of $7.38. Rollback is the tax rate that would generate the same amount of ad valorem taxes as the previous year, minus new construction and annexation. The adopted rate is slightly higher than this fiscal year's rate of $6.95 per $1,000 of non-exempt, accessed value.
Mr. Moore dissented. After the meeting, he said the adopted rate wasn't low enough to make up for declining property values. He said if property owners aren't paying a lower tax rate that proportionately equals reduced value, they've gotten a tax increase.
"I'm just not going to vote for a property-tax increase," he said. "Bottom line is people have lost accessed values and they're still paying the same tax."
According to the Volusia County Property Appraiser's Office, Holly Hill's taxable value declined from about $476 million last year to nearly $453 million this year. With that drop in value, a higher property-tax rate can mean the same, or a lower, tax bill on a property.