Sunday, December 7, 2014

A Brief Background on Pensacola and the Community Maritime Park

Originally published on Thursday, July 15, 2010
The population of our City, Pensacola, Florida, is between 50,000 and 55,000 from year to year.

About three years ago, the annual budget for the entire City was approximately 250 million dollars a year. Of this amount approximately 50 million was spent on city employee salaries alone, not counting benefits, physical structure costs, office equipment, utilities, vehicles (police & fire included), and all other City expenses. The City has less than 1,000 employees which makes the average salary $50,000 per year per employee. This is much higher than the average salary of the citizens of Pensacola.

I really can't tell you what the annual amount spent on city employee salaries and other items has been since then as the budget report has used pass-through accounts and other tactics to apparently hide the true cost of salaries and other items.

Our taxes are high and our services are very poor.

Pensacola has a CRA (Community Redevelopment) district of approximately 4,000 of the poorest people in Pensacola. The Pensacola City Officials and Pensacola City Council treat CRA money as “free money” and use it mostly for their friends and on projects unrelated to improving the public needs of the community while people, especially the elderly are tripping on broken sidewalks, hauling trash cans to the road over crumbling curbs and our pleas to use this money to build a new sewage treatment plant and close the one in downtown Pensacola have been ignored.

While most of us were still struggling with the aftermath of Hurrican Ivan, September, 2004, some individuals, Pensacola City Officials and Pensacola City Council members apparenty met and decided to give 40 million dollars and 30 waterfront acres (at $1.00 a year for 60 years), to a Corporation, then unregistered, (to include these individuals), to build a ballpark, a museum, and office buildings on our waterfront property to be referred to as the Community Maritime Park (CMP).

The corporation, later registered as Community Maritime Park Associates, Inc. (CMPA), was to build and administer this park and would pay no property taxes.

When a referendum on the CMP was demanded by citizens, mostly CRA citizens, via petitions, concerned about our overall lack of money, the deteriorated condition of our infrastructure and the desperate condition of the Sewage Treatment Plant located in downtown Pensacola, the Pensacola City Council set a referendum for the whole City to vote and repeatedly assured the majority of the non-CRA community citizens voting that they would pay nothing – that the total cost would come from the CRA funds and the taxes of the rest of the City would not go up. In other words that they would get something for nothing.

Many of us in the CRA requested that the voting be limited to those districts located in the CRA area whose citizens would be paying for the CMP and not allow those who would not pay to vote. This was not done. The referendum allowing CRA funds to be used for the Maritime park was passed.

Predictably, the Pensacola City Council eventually expanded the cost to the entire City of Pensacola as many of us had expected as it was unrealistic to depend on 4,000 poor people to bear the cost of 40 million dollars plus interest.

These manipulations on the part of Pensacola City Officials and the Pensacola City Council to accomplish their goal are a hallmark of our leaders here.

After decades of citizen requests, the outdated, ill-operating sewage treatment plant located close to the bay is being relocated – after the CRA money has been allocated to the CMP. During Hurricane Ivan, the plant was over washed and affluent flowed through the City Streets, into buildings and into Pensacola Bay. An additional fee was added, for the foreseeable future, to our ECUA (utility) bill for the entire county, including the City of Pensacola, to pay for the cost of the new plant. CRA money should have been used to build a new sewage treatment plant as this is what CRA money is designated for.

The taxpayers of the City of Pensacola own the waterfront land, almost 30 acres, on which the Community Maritime Park is to be built.This land was purchased with taxpayer money in 2000, apparently without prior approval, supposedly to be used as a City Park for taxpayer access to the water since two parcels of our waterfront property had recently been leased (read sold) for most of this century to Mr. Russenberger for very small amounts i.e. one parcel was leased for approximately $10,000 a year. Mr. Russenberger built two large office buildings on this waterfront parcel and insisted, he said he was promised, that our municipal auditorium be torn down as it blocked his view. It was torn down. Many others and I graduated from high school in that auditorium and did not want it torn down. It was built in the 1950’s and was still in good shape but Pensacola City Officials and the Pensacola City Council had neglected its regular maintenance, such as the air conditioning system, etc., for many years. It was slightly damaged in Hurricane Ivan but the insurance was more than enough to pay for repairs. I understand that it cost more to tear it down than to repair it. We now have no city auditorium.

Mr. Russenberger built a gated community on the other waterfront parcel and CRA funds were used to dredge a marina for use by this gated community and Mr. Russenberger. The public is denied access to this marina.

While the improvements (buildings) he constructed on these sites seem to be appraised properly, the appraised land value for each unit is $10.00 which is up from the $5.00 per unit originally assessed.This severe under appraisal deprives the City of property taxes on a vast amount of money. The million-dollar view advertised for these properties is apparently assessed at $10.00. Something seems wrong here.

The waterfront land, supposedly our new park, sat vacant, overgrown with weeds, “No Trespassing” signs were posted and eventually it turned into a homeless village, even though there are many homeless shelters in Pensacola. Some of the homeless prefer this village due to no restrictions on drinking.

There are Pensacola City Ordinances against overgrown property but it has been my experience, and it happened here, that City Officials appear to think they are above the law.

Citizen inquiries about our City Park were mostly ignored. Most taxpayers want a simple park with a space for our kids to run and play with perhaps a few pieces of playground equipment, with an area by the water where we can walk or perhaps sit on simple benches. We don’t want to spend a lot of money as our taxes, already high, will just go up again. This is 2010, ten years later, and we never got our parkThe land was allowed to stay in this condition with frequent complaints in the paper that this situation would improve if everyone would rush ahead and develop the Community Maritime Park.

The following individuals were named as trustees for the Park development:

Quint Studer – Owner of The Studer Group who wants the City of Pensacola to build, at
our expense, a baseball stadium and an office building for him on
ourwaterfront property. Mr. Studer is a motivational speaker.
John Cavenough – resident of the University of West Florida who wants the City of
Pensacola to build, at our expense, an office building for him on our
waterfront property. Mr. John Cavenough has relocated and is no longer
a trustee.
Admiral Fetterman Admiral Fetterman wants the City of Pensacola to Build, at our expense,
a Maritime Museum for him on our waterfront property. AdmiralFetterman
is deceased and is no longer a trustee.The only original trustee left is
Mr. Quint Studer and, apparently, the only project left is the baseball

CMPA, Inc. proposal - The CMPA, Inc. will lease almost 30 taxpayer owned acres on the bay for 60 years at a cost of $1.00 per year. After 60 years, the CMPA will supposedly return our waterfront property to us.The CMPA, Inc. wants the city to give them 40 million dollars to develop the Park – the City would be indebted for the 40 million dollars given to CMPA, Inc. Interest will at least double the 40 million dollars. The CMPA, Inc. will pay no property taxes to the City or County for the 60 years they lease the property since the CMPA, Inc. is listed as a non-profit. CRA funds are supposed to increase the tax base – this plan does not.A Pensacola News Journal article erroneously stated “The maritime park will be administered by and will serve as a research facility for the University of West Florida.” This is not true. The Maritime Park will be administered by the CMPA, Inc. officers and not by the University of West Florida.