Immokalee Today Florida's 21st Century

Florida's Enterprise Zone program to end; some incentives remain

Florida's Enterprise Zone program, one of the most cost effective incentive programs in Sunshine State history, will vanish at the end of 2015. 

The Florida Legislature failed to renew the program, which was by law set to sunset at the end of year, but replaced it - in a way - with some other more limited tax and other economic incentive programs. 

Created by Florida lawmakers of a past era, the program was designed to be a ticket out of poverty for small businesses seeking to find a firm financial footing in today’s marketplace. In Immokalee alone, its Enterprise Zone provided over $200,000 in tax incentives and other assistance to nearly 20 businesses over the past decade. 

The replacement bill - signed into law June 16 by Florida Gov. Rick Scott and now Chapter 2015-221, Laws of Florida - preserves state incentives for certain businesses which are already taking advantage of incentive agreements with the state and currently located within enterprise zones. The bill defines the term “eligible business” to mean a business that entered into a contract with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) between January 1, 2012, and July 1, 2015, for a project that is located in an enterprise zone under the following programs:

  • The Local Government Distressed Area Matching Grant Program;
  • The Qualified Defense Contractor and Space Flight Business Tax Refund Program;
  • The Qualified Target Industry (QTI) Business Tax Refund Program;
  • The Brownfield Redevelopment Bonus Refund Program;
  • The High-Impact Business Performance (HIPI) Grant Program;
  • The Quick Action Closing Fund (QAC) Program; and
  • The Innovation Incentive Program (IIP).

The bill provides that an eligible business may apply for the following enterprise zone incentives, if t contract with the DEO is still deemed active by the department and has not expired or terminated:

  • Exemption for a Licensed Child Care Facility operating in an Enterprise Zone;
  • Sales Tax Refund for Building Materials;
  • Sales Tax Refund for Business Property;
  • Sales Tax Exemption for Electrical Energy;
  • Enterprise Zone Jobs Tax Credit (Sales & Use Tax);
  • Enterprise Zone Jobs Tax Credit (Corporate Income Tax); and
  • Enterprise Zone Property Tax Credit (Corporate Income Tax).

DEO will certify that applicants are eligible for enterprise zone incentives prior to the Department of Revenue’s final processing of incentive applications.

The bill also extends the expiration date of the Community Contribution Tax Credit Program to June 30, 2018 and expands eligibility to include projects designed to provide housing opportunities for persons with special needs and provides $21.4 million in annual funding for projects that provide homeownership opportunities for low-income and very-low-income households or housing opportunities for persons with special needs and $3.5 million for all other projects.

“Persons with special needs” is defined in current statute to include adults requiring independent living services, young adults formerly in foster care, survivors of domestic violence, and people receiving Social Security Disability Insurance, Supplemental Security Income, or veterans’ disability benefits.

The bill also allows projects which are required to take place in a designated Enterprise Zone to continue to qualify for the Community Contribution Tax Credit after the Enterprise Zone program sunsets by stating that a project may qualify if it is in an area that was in an Enterprise Zone as of May 1, 2015.

The bill prevents the definitions of “community contribution” and “project” needed for administration of the program from sun-setting prior to the sunset of the program.

The staff of the Immokalee Community Redevelopment Agency will be happy to talk over the changes and help business owners who may fall into any of the special categories. 

 

Hurricane Season 2015 is here. Are you ready?

Hurricane Wilma, 2005, slams ImmokaleeWelcome to Hurricane Season 2015 – are you ready?

Now is the time to get smart, learn new stuff (about weather, hurricanes) and beef up your resources to get prepared for any tropical weather emergency. And that includes learning and using the many online resources for Hurricane Season 2015.

Hurricanes – and, for that matter, tropical storms – are nothing to take lightly or take for granted. Sure your home and community hasn’t been hit with a serious hurricane for many years now and the U.S. National Hurricane Center’s official forecast calls for a “below normal” season in 2015.

But as one of the top hurricane experts once subtly pointed out: “It only takes one to make it very bad year.”

Online resources for hurricane season

 

So, let's start with the obvious: the U.S.  National Weather Service and the National Hurricane Center in Miami

Some folks like to rail against government but without government we would have no Hurricane Center. And, sure, maybe the Hurricane Center website hasn’t been restyled in a few years (but the mobile version is very functional, if not pretty.)

The Hurricane Center also maintains a Facebook page, which it updates as necessary. It employs a group of Twitter accounts and, actually, one of the best Twitter accounts comes from Craig Fugate, administrator of the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and long-time emergency director in Miami.

The Hurricane Center is on YouTube, although not as frequently as it should be.

Another excellent resource, particularly on mobile, is the Weather Underground or Wunderground, a commercial site to be sure but one founded by a bunch of former Weather Service veterans.

Its mobile apps are actually pretty hard to beat and updated frequently with valuable information.

If  you really want to start getting nerdy (like some of us), Florida State University maintains a site on which you can view the latest runs of the various (if not quite all) hurricane models from which forecasts are drawn. The model runs show motion – direction and predicted intensity – and can you see what the experts see.

In addition to all these resources many local and regional news sites, newspapers and television stations, run their own hurricane pages, mobile apps, and other online resources and many are very good. Most, if not all, draw their information from the Hurricane Center and many add local and regional information.

The point is Hurricane Season 2015 comes complete with as much information and online resources as are available and the catalog of resources grows with each year. In this era of the digital world there is simply no reason to remain uneducated about hurricanes nor is there a reason to remain uninformed when the weather threatens.

Major new development announced for Eastern Collier

Collier Enterprises has announced it is moving forward with a major new residential and commercial development in Eastern Collier County. 

"(We are)  working with Minto Communities on planning and permitting activities for Rural Lands West," announced Patrick L. Utter, Collier Enterprises' Vice-President of Real Estate & Club Operations. 

Formerly known as the Town of Big Cypress, the Rural Lands West community has been farmed for decades and is adjacent to the Golden Gate Estates at Oil Well Road. It will receive its development permits under Collier County's nationally recognized Rural Lands Stewardship (RLS) program

The name “Rural Lands West” is simply a permitting name reflecting the location of the property along the western boundary of the 200,000 acre RLS area in eastern Collier County, Uttter explained. The actual name of the community will be selected during the planning and permitting process.

The RLS program takes a global approach to master planning and incentivizes landowners to concentrate development away from valuable environmentally sensitive areas, preserving significant amounts of land for open space, wetlands and wildlife habitat. Under the RLS guidelines, for every acre developed, Rural Lands West will provide approximately three acres of preservation land, including sensitive wetlands, major flow ways, wildlife habitat and other natural ecosystems. 

Rural Lands West preservation will include thousands of acres within the Camp Keais Strand, helping to complete the preservation of a key corridor for the endangered Florida panther and permanently connecting the CREW lands to the north with the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge to the south.

It is anticipated that the initial phase of the Rural Lands West community undertaken by Minto will include approximately 4,000 residential homes and a 150,000 square foot town center. Additional commercial development will include office, manufacturing, retail, dining, recreation and entertainment options, healthcare, schools, civic and cultural facilities. Future phases, planned to occur over the next 15-20 years, will bring the community to a total of up to 10,000 residential homes and 1.9 million square feet of commercial space on approximately 4,000 acres of land.

“We are pleased to be working with Minto because they share our commitment to environmentally sensitive planning, and they have a long history of providing quality homes and sustainable communities,” Utter said. “Minto acquired our Sabal Bay property in 2012 and we have been impressed with their development of the Isles of Collier Preserve."

“Together, Minto and Collier Enterprises have the experience needed to plan a community of this scale,” said Minto’s Senior Vice President, William Bullock. “Collier’s experience with the Rural Lands Stewardship program and the local entitlement process is invaluable. Minto’s current Naples community, the Isles of  Collier Preserve, demonstrates Minto’s ability to create an active lifestyle community that both integrates and protects the environment.” 

The permitting process will involve local, state and federal agencies, and is estimated to take two to three years to complete. Collier Enterprises will be working closely with county staff and neighbors during the permitting process and has launched a website (www.rurallandswest.com) where the public can learn more about the Rural Lands West community and its progress. First residences in Phase I are expected to be available in 2018.

“The Rural Lands Stewardship program provides an excellent framework inplanning for the future growth of eastern Collier County by protecting the environment and promoting the development of self-sustaining communities,” said Utter. “The Rural Lands West community will attract a wide variety of new residents – from baby boomers to growing families. The town center concept at this location is attractive because it not only provides services and amenities for new residents, it offers existing residents in eastern Collier County new opportunities for employment, shopping and services without having to travel west." 

Collier Enterprises is nationally recognized for creating communities and clubs of quality, style and environmental sensitivity. Its commitment to the environment has won awards from organizations including Audubon International and the Council for Sustainable Florida. 

Headquartered in Naples, Fla., Collier Enterprises is primarily engaged in real estate investment and entitlement, and agribusiness. The company was established in 1976 under the leadership of Miles C. Collier and traces its roots to Barron Gift Collier, who founded Collier County in 1923. 

Founded in 1955, Minto is a family-owned business that has grown over the last 60 years into one of North America’s leading builders, with more than 70,000 homes built, including 20,000 in Florida. Minto creates a wide array of award-winning new homes and resort-style master-planned communities to meet every lifestyle. The company has earned national awards and recognition that include consistently high rankings from Eliant Customer Service Surveys, Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) and multiple national awards in community and home design. 

Collier Commissioner Nance to hold Town Hall, May 19

Collier County Commissioner Tim Nance, who represents Immokalee and Eastern Collier County on the county's lawmaking panel, will hold a Town Hall meeting May 19th. 

The public gathering is set for 6 p.m. at the UF/IFAS Extension Service Center, 14700 Immokalee (next to the county fairgrounds). 

 

Some of the subjects will include updates and information about:

·         Growth Planning/Economic Development/Opportunity Naples
·         Park and Recreation updates – Big Corkscrew Regional Park, ATV Park
·         Roads ? Widening Golden Gate Blvd, Limerock Roads, CR 951/White Blvd, SR29
·         Updates on local projects – Shopping Centers, Recycle Center, Town of Big Cypress
·         Flood Prevention Efforts and Improvements
·         Improvements in the EMS System and EMS Response time goals
 
A question/answer session will follow Commissioner Nance's presentation.

Please make plans to attend and share your ideas with Commissioner Nance. 

Invite your family, friends and, neighbors!

For more information, contact Jim Flanagan at 239-252-8604 or JimFlanagan@colliergov.net

CAT Bus offers $30 unlimited pass for students this summer!

The CAT Bus, Collier County's public transportation system, is offering Collier students a $30 all-summer, 30-day unlimited riding pass in 2015. 

And for adults - with students or not - a Summer 2015 pass will cost only $35 for the 30-day pass. 

It's called the Student Summer Paw Pass - get it? CAT Bus? Paw Pass? CAT stands for Collier Area Transit, of course, although everyone refers to the system as the CAT Bus. 

To buy the passes, Immokalee students will need to catch one of the buses as they move around the community or visit the North Collier Government Center or the CAT Bus Transfer Station at the Collier County Government Complex in East Naples. 

Applications going out for Immokalee's new Sweat Equity grant program!

The word is circulating, applications are going out for Immokalee's new Sweat Equity grant program - intended for business owner who want to spruce up the exterior of commercial spaces. 

The Immokalee Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) won approval of the program two months ago and is now accepting applications and encouraging business owners to take advantage of it. 

All improvements must meet the criteria listed below as well as the current requirements of the land development code, building code and any applicable zoning overlays.

Improvements that remedy existing code enforcement violations also qualify if combined with other site improvement. 

The CRA is funded by Tax Increment Financing (TIF), a capture of Collier County’s property taxes above the year 2000 property tax value. TIF is a unique tool which CRAs can use to leverage public funds and promote private sector growth. 

The CRA staff will be happy to meet with any business owners to discuss further the opportunities and responsibilities of the program.

Criteria for the Sweat Equity program includes: 

  • The Grant is for commercial for-profit business structures that: 1) pay into the CRA tax increment, and 2) which are operating with a valid occupational license within the Immokalee 
  • Community Redevelopment Area, as established by Collier County Ordinance No. 2000-42.
  • The CRA will reimburse 50% of the cost of materials only for external improvements to existing structures, buildings and surrounding property.   
  • Grants will be paid out on a reimbursement basis upon verification by CRA staff that the items identified on material receipts have been used on the property for the purposes outlined on the application.
  • The minimum grant amount under this program shall be $250.00 (minimum $500.00 total material cost).
  • The maximum grant amount under this program shall be $2000.00 (minimum total material cost $4000.00).
  • No monetary value will be placed on the applicants sweat equity. Funds may not be used to cover the cost of labor or personal effort.
  • Funds may not be used to cover any permitting, design and/or inspection fees. 
  • Applicant must perform at least two exterior improvements that have been accepted by the CRA Advisory Board. Examples include windows & door, stucco, paint, landscaping & irrigation, awnings shutters and other exterior improments. 
  • Grant applications will be considered on a first-come first-served basis by CRA staff.
  • Grants applications shall be awarded by the CRA Governing Board upon recommendation by 1) CRA staff, and 2) the CRA Local Advisory Board. 
  • Grants will be considered for award by CRA staff based on funding availability.In order to spread the impact of the program throughout the community, there will be a one-year waiting period between grant awards for each individual property.   
  • All proposed work must be approved via written CRA notice-to-proceed before beginning any work.  
  • Grant funding is not retroactive. Receipts that are dated before application approval date will not be a recognized expenditure. 
  • Applicants are required to request a meeting with CRA staff prior to submittal of application.

 

Please call the Immokalee CRA office for more information. Questions can be directed in Spanish to Christie Betancourt, 239-867-0025; in Creole to James Sainvilus, 239-867-0026; or in English to Bradley Muckel, 239-867-0027.

Immokalee property tax values, revenue increases

For the first time in seven years the property tax values in Immokalee - and, therefore, revenues increased in 2014, according to Collier County tax collections. 

The figures were reported earlier this week by Bradley Muckel, executive director of the Immokalee Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), to the Collier County Commission sitting as the formal governing body of the Immokalee CRA. 

The increase was a small one - jumping from $223,000 in 2013 to just $266,000 in 2014 - but significant given how hard hit Immokalee was by the Great Recession. 

"Any sign of growth is a good thing," Muckel told the lawmakers. 

However, he cautioned, those figures are only one-third of what they were prior to the recession when Immokalee tax revenues hovered around $800,000 annually. 

Muckel gave his report to the county commissioners during the lawmakers' annual workshop with both of Collier's CRAs, Immokalee and its cousin in East Naples, the Bayshore-Gateway Triangle CRA. 

The Naples Daily News reported on the workshop and, if you're a paid subscriber, you can read the Daily News account here

Muckel told lawmakers he is optimistic about the community's future because development, entrepreneurism and construction are on the increase. 

“We have a Walmart coming and a Taco Bell under construction,” he told the Daily News. “A First Bank is in permitting, three Family Dollar Stores are coming and a frozen yogurt shop and Subway just finished construction on Main Street. Our goal is to get back to where we were in ‘07 and keep growing. We want to get to a point where blight is down enough that we won’t qualify for all of these grants anymore that fund our big ticket items.”

 

 

Enterprise Zones headed for sunset.

Florida Capitol BuildingUnless something drastic happens in the second half of the Florida Legislature's 2015 session, it appears Enterprise Zones in Florida - including Immokalee's - will die a natural death at the end of the year. 

Enterprise Zones offer the most cost-effective program in the Sunshine State for job creation, entrepreneurial encouragement and a ticket out of poverty for small businesses seeking to find a firm financial footing in today’s marketplace. 

In Immokalee alone, its Enterprise Zone has provided over $200,000 in tax incentives and other assistance to nearly 20 businesses over the past decade. 

Revived in 2005, the Enterprise Zone program in Florida is set to sunset at the end of 2015, meaning those tax incentives and other small business support will cease to exist. 

Bills filed to extend the life of the program are languishing in committees in both the Florida House of Representatives and the Florida Senate and at this point in the annual two-month session bills that haven't moved out of committee are likely not to. 

One bill, House Bill 7067, appeared initially to be favored by the House leadership, was given Preferred Committee Bill status (almost a guarantee for passage) but it was withdrawn suddenly March 31. That bill, however, would have eliminated the Enterprise Zone program and replaced it with a somewhat similar program but only at the discretion of each county's government body. 

In addition, the Orlando Sentinel published in March a piece quoting both the Florida Senate President and the Speaker of the Florida House as saying the program would die. 

Florida Tax Watch, a well-respected non-partisan watch-dog organization, issued a report before the 2015 session began supporting the Enteprise Zone program and the Florida Association of Counties has been supportive.  

But unless the tide changes and starts flowing back in greater support for the programs, it appears 2015 will be the last year of Enterprise in Immokalee and the rest of the Sunshine State. 

Immokalee Construction projects moving along on schedule.

Two major street projects are moving on - or ahead of - schedule in Immokalee. 

The storm water drainage project at the western end of Immokalee Drive and the sidewalk construction project on Colorado Avenue will, when completed, make Immokalee a much drier and safer community

The larger of two projects is the $2.1 million storm water drainage system, sidewalks and roadway improvements to Immokalee Drive, which began at North 16th Street and moved to the west.

The second, which is primarily a pedestrian safety initiative, is a $500,000 drainage installation and sidewalk construction project along both sides of Colorado Avenue, from South First to South Ninth Streets in the vicinity of Pinecrest Elementary School.  

Money for both projects came through Collier County government by way of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) after being appropriated by the U.S. Congress as part of the long-term Disaster Recovery Initiative, approved by the U.S. Congress.

The Immokalee Drive project is the first to be design jointly with the Big Cypress Basin, a subdivision in Collier and Lee counties of the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD). The district provided $200,000 of engineering services to the project.

The Immokalee CRA completed last December a $3.5 million storm water collection system in South Immokalee.

 

Sweat Equity grant program for Immokalee businesses.

Immokalee business owners have a new way to renovate store and business exteriors. 

The Immokalee CRA has opened its new Sweat Equity Grant Program to match 50 percent of the costs business owners spend on fixing up store fronts, exterior commercial buildings and aesthetic site improvements. 

All improvements must meet certain criteria (below) and must meet requirements of the community's current land development code, building codes and zoning overlays. Improvements which may correct sited code violoations also qualify if they are combined with other site improvements. 

The new program, along with many other CRA projects and programs are funded each year through a mechanism called Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, which captures Collier County property taxes above the 2000 Fiscal Year property tax value. TIF is a unique tool used to leverage public funds and promote private sector economic activity.

To qualify for the Sweat Equity grant program, businesses must meet these set of standards and criteria:  

  • The Grant is for commercial for-profit business structures that: 1) pay into the CRA tax increment, and 2) which are operating with a valid occupational license within the Immokalee 
  • Community Redevelopment Area, as established by Collier County Ordinance No. 2000-42.
  • The CRA will reimburse 50% of the cost of materials only for external improvements to existing structures, buildings and surrounding property.   
  • Grants will be paid out on a reimbursement basis upon verification by CRA staff that the items identified on material receipts have been used on the property for the purposes outlined on the application.
  • The minimum grant amount under this program shall be $250.00 (minimum $500.00 total material cost).
  • The maximum grant amount under this program shall be $2000.00 (minimum total material cost $4000.00).
  • No monetary value will be placed on the applicants sweat equity. Funds may not be used to cover the cost of labor or personal effort.
  • Funds may not be used to cover any permitting, design and/or inspection fees. 
  • Applicant must perform at least two exterior improvements that have been accepted by the CRA 
  • Advisory Board. Examples include windows/doors, stucco/paint, landscaping/irrigation, awnings/shutters, etc.
  • Grant applications will be considered on a first-come first-served basis by CRA staff.
  • Grants applications shall be awarded by the CRA Governing Board upon recommendation by 1) CRA staff, and 2) the CRA Local Advisory Board. 
  • Grants will be considered for award by CRA staff based on funding availability.In order to spread the impact of the program throughout the community, there will be a one-year waiting period between grant awards for each individual property.   
  • All proposed work must be approved via written CRA notice-to-proceed before beginning any work.  
  • Grant funding is not retroactive. Receipts that are dated before application approval date will not be a recognized expenditure. 
  • Applicants are required to request a meeting with CRA staff prior to submittal of application.

Please call the Immokalee CRA office for more information. Questions can be directed in Spanish to Christie Betancourt, 239-867-0025; in Creole to James Sainvilus, 239-867-0026; or in English to Bradley Muckel, 239-867-0027.