Chairman Kneessy explained the purpose of the workshop and that there would be allotted times for each order of business due to time constraints. In regards to the "reverter clause," the City of Melbourne and BRAG were given 10 minutes, staff was given 10 minutes and the Board had up to 40 minutes for questions and discussions.
Mike McNees, Melbourne City Manager, addressed the Board in regards to the Melbourne Property Reverter issue. He presented an overview of which property was in question and went over some historical data for background. He continued that there has been a lot of conversation of public vs. private purpose and argued that economic development is a public purpose. He provided the benefits of the development to both the City of Melbourne and the Henegar Center.
Wendy Brandon, volunteer executive director of the Henegar Center was provided opportunity to present information. She explained that she has been on the center's Board for most of the last 22 years so she is also the resident "historian." She expressed that she felt it important to make sure everyone knew what the money would be used for. Also, she said that an economic development such as this one could be a public use and said that statute supports that notion. She said the center would utilize the $900,000 it would receive from the developer to pay debt and create an endowment ($500,000) for the benefit of cultural education of Brevard students.
Dr. Binggeli said we do not dispute the basic facts of the history of the property. In the end, he said the issue to be agreed upon is what is fair and reasonable compensation. He provided some information about what the property is currently appraised, what the City of Melbourne has to gain if the development is completed and monies the District could recognize for its capital budget and the reduction in state funding to its operating as a result of the development. He further commented that we have offered to sell our interest in both pieces of this land for $400,000 or 13 percent of the value of the land as it sits there today.
Mr. Craig discussed some logistics with the property. He had spent hours doing research which included trying to find out what the property was sold for in 1919, information on the 2.5 million dollars that the city said BRAG had to spend when the property was given to them and even some discussion on whether or not part of the property fits the definition of blighted property. He concluded by saying that we need some sort of consolidated offer on the table to negotiate from because currently all the Board has are pieces from the City of Melbourne, from BRAG and from the Henegar Center. Some has been written and some has been verbal. He said that the Board needs something concrete from which it can negotiate. He said included in that negotiation piece would need to be some sort of protection from future developments that might bring down taxable requirements.
Mrs. Henderson asked Mr. McNees and Ms. Brandon what kind of negotiations have they been in with the developer and is the $900,000 the best offer they have received. Ms. Brandon responded said they entered into talks with the developer over a year ago. They have an agreement for the $900,000. Mrs. Henderson feels there could be more that could have been done to make this offer more fair for BPS. From her personal perspective, the $400,000 is more than reasonable.
Mrs. Belford thinks the programs offered by the Henegar Center are wonderful, but said as a School Board member, she represents the taxpayers of Brevard and she sees this project will be beneficial and she wants to see it happen. At the same time she feels she has a responsibility to make a decision that is in the best interest of the people she represents. She said especially when our District is facing the challenges we are facing, that she cannot put the interests of the Henegar Center ahead of the overall needs of the community and the students. She said that she is not comfortable with saying take the money and put it into an endowment instead of putting it back into our schools.
Mrs. Kneessy wanted to mention that she had hard feelings over something that happened last year when the City of Melbourne made a deal with Northrop Grumman that essentially took away Ad Valorem taxes away from BPS. She also expressed angst over the City of Melbourne not even discussing it with the District ahead of time. She had to learn about it in Florida Today. She understands they want improvements, but they are asking for a second year in a row to put their wants and needs over the needs of Brevard Public Schools. We have closed schools and eliminated over 1,000 positions in eight years. She feels the $400,000 offer was being very generous.
Mr. Ziegler expressed that there have been a lot of great things said. He said that the City of Melbourne and BRAG are great partners and that we want to be a good steward to them and that we do serve the same public. He said the only thing of real value is the land. He said that he did not feel there was a person in the room that could decide the actual value of the "reverter." He said that BPS does not own the property, we only have rights to the "reverter" clause. He said he feels we just need to get to what is in the best interests of the community overall and he feels that it is making this deal happen. Public use has been an argument.
He asked Mr. Bistline if he had any doubt about the AGO presented earlier about a Community Redevelopment Agency or CRA being a public purpose is accurate? Mr. Bistline didn't object to the AGO, but he didn't feel the AGO is on point.
Mr. Ziegler expressed further that the District had been slammed because it had been said by the County Commission that the District objected to a reduction in impact fees for a CRA project in Titusville. However, he asked Mr. Theodore to confirm that was not the case and that we did not object to the reduction of impact fees for that CRA project. Mr. Theodore responded affirmatively, that we did not object to a reduction for that project.
Mr. Ziegler commented that it seems the legislature may be listening to us when it comes to the fact that Brevard has so much federal land that is not taxed. We are hoping for some relief and he feels that it is not a wise move to not put this land back on the tax role. He appreciated Ms. Brandon bringing up the Summer Fine Arts Program and said the Board works hard to maintain cultural opportunities for our students. In his opinion, he does believe that something fair is due. He said that he didn't want anything the Board did to be construed as blocking this project from going forward. We need to come to an agreement.
There was some discussion between the Board regarding the Northrop Grumman deal that transpired last year. Dr. Binggeli expressly said that the District works very hard with the EDC and other entities that are trying to bring business to Brevard County. A strong school system such as Brevard's is a draw to new business opportunities.
Mr. McNees said the decisions regarding the Northrop Grumman deal were completely outside of the City of Melbourne's purview. They cannot make decisions to abate BPS taxes. He discussed various other points in reference to items that had been brought up by the Board. He said that one number that he felt was left out of the discussion was one third of a million dollars of impact fees that would come to the school district as a result of this project. There has been a lot of talk about economic development. He said this development will serve to advance the downtown community.
In regards to the impact fees, Mr. Theodore explained that a new study says that the current impact fee only gets us up to half of zero. He said he doesn't know if the County Commission will take that into account when setting impact fees or not.
Ms. Brandon reiterated that when the city and she spoke about selling the property to the developer, Mr. Zimmerman, they knew that economic development would qualify as a public purpose. They never thought that the School Board would feel differently. She said that if this public purpose is met, the School Board would receive nothing other than the tax benefits.
Ms. Kneessy said that she appreciated Ms. Brandon's passion. She said that what they need to do as a Board is to move toward come decision. She asked Mr. Bistline to explain what their options are at this point.
Mr. Bistline said that everyone wants to go forward He said that it is important to remember that it is not about a CRA, it is about a private organization that will receive $900,000 in exchange for the School Board releasing the reverter on a portion of the property. The only issue is whether the School Board thinks it should give up compensation and then that money would go to a private organization. He said that it has nothing to do with a CRA. In regards to how the Board should proceed, he remarked that if the Board has a consensus, they can direct staff to put an agenda item on the next Board meeting for information and it can then go for consent at a subsequent meeting.
Mr. Craig said there is plenty of precedence for the sale of the reverter clause. He said the only offer that is on the table is what the District has offered. He said that we have to have something in writing from the City of Melbourne and from BRAG. Otherwise, the only thing we are doing is discussing what the District has offered. We have to have a consolidated offer, not bits and pieces.
Ms. Kneessy explained that we need something in writing from both BRAG and the City of Melbourne so that it can be placed on our information agenda and that we need for it to be sent to us by Tuesday as that is when we will publish the agenda.
Chairman Kneessy called for a recess at 10:31 a.m.