FORT LAUDERDALE — Chandra Evans, president of the Roosevelt Gardens Neighborhood Council, is concerned about the possible increase in taxes if her community is annexed by Fort Lauderdale and the fact that, she said, Lauderhill has shown no interest in annexing her neighborhood.
This leaves her, she said, “feeling like a stepchild.”
Broadview Park’s Civic Association president, David Nielsen, said that his community cannot form as its own city because “the cost is too great.”
Evans and Nielsen joined representatives from Boulevard Gardens, Washington Park and Franklin Park neighborhood associations on Tuesday, Aug. 18 in meeting representatives from the Broward County government and the cities of Fort Lauderdale and West Park. The meeting was called to discuss the annexation process and the pros and cons of creating a new city.
The roundtable discussion, facilitated by the Urban League of Broward County, took place at the Broward County Government Center in Fort Lauderdale.
For many years, critics have accused cities of racism in resisting the predominantly black neighborhoods in Central Broward. The neighborhoods primarily consist of homes and apartments, but not enough businesses to generate sufficient property tax revenue to pay for services such as police and firefighters.
Without the ability to generate enough tax revenue, these areas have been unattractive to cities, which view them as likely financial drains.
“The purpose in having the meeting is to assist the neighborhood association and civic group leaders from the five unincorporated areas left in Central Broward in moving forward on the annexation process,” said Germaine Smith-Baugh, the Urban League’s president and CEO.
“We want to ensure that the neighborhood associations are informed about statutes, annexation and allow them to ask questions,” Smith-Baugh said.
According to the Florida annexation statute 171, communities must be contiguous to any annexing city.
Broadview Park can be annexed by the cities of Plantation, Davie or Fort Lauderdale.
The Central County area, which comprises Boulevard Gardens, Franklin Park, Washington Park and Roosevelt Gardens, can only be annexed by Fort Lauderdale or Lauderhill.
Broadview measures one square mile and has a population of about 6,000. The Central County area measures one-half by one and one-half miles, and also has 6,000 residents.
Cynthia Chambers, director of the Broward County Environmental Protection and Growth Management Department, said that many of the remaining unincorporated areas are residential and because of that, it costs more to provide them with services than the county can collect in taxes.
“It’s not something that can be done easily,” she said, “as it’s difficult for the County Commission to fund services in those areas.”
The annexation issue, according to Chambers, has been going on for 10 years.
Chambers added that taxable values are down countywide and have declined since last year.
“But it would be a worthy exercise to do a feasibility study; come up with numbers to look at because it simply comes down to the question of ‘how much?’” she said.
Chambers continued, “When you look at the amount of revenue these communities generate, through taxes and other fees, versus the costs of services, it has to be revenue positive to consider the annexation viable.”
Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler said that he has seen many communities looking for a home, seeking representation, “and that bothers me if we are leaving certain neighborhoods.”
Seiler described Broadview as “a diamond in the rough” and added that its location “is tremendous. We are a diverse city and, yes, want to round out our borders, but not when it’s fiscally irresponsible. I am serious about this issue.”
Lauderhill City Commissioner Dale Holness said he feels the decision to annex is based on “politics as well as economics” and that Fort Lauderdale, having the largest budget of any city in the county, “can absorb the cost of the Central County area.”
Fort Lauderdale City Manager George Gretsas said that whatever the cost, if Fort Lauderdale incorporates another area into its territory, the bottom line is “more costs for us. The only way it will work is to have the county step to the plate and absorb some of the costs.’’
He continued: “Service is service, and we need to see the impact on our budget. It’s all a part of our analysis.”
West Park City Administrator Russell Benford told the neighborhood association representatives at the meeting that his city is successful, “and that was difficult, but not impossible.”
West Park, a city formed in 2005 from several previously unincorporated areas, was not faced with annexation choices, Benford explained: “No city wanted to annex us.”
Benford suggested that the Central Broward communities, if considering forming their own city, should carefully examine the cost of police and fire services.
“They can be extreme,” he said.
Smith-Baugh said the annexation process is “beyond frustration at this point for many of the neighborhood associations.”
The fact that annexation has not happened for these communities, Smith-Baugh said, is not a reflection on any community not doing its due diligence, “but probably more about cherry picking. The fact that they are predominantly residential may not make them seem as attractive as other incorporated areas.’’
She continued, “They [the communities] have been actively involved in trying to go through the process of annexation.’’
Seiler said annexation should not be forced; residents have a choice.
“The City of Fort Lauderdale wants to be involved. When you have two cities courting you for annexation, look for the best deals.”
Photo by Mychal McDonald. Germaine Smith-Baugh, president and CEO of the Urban League of Broward County, discusses annexation issues at an Aug. 18 meeting in Fort Lauderdale.
IF YOU GO
What: The next Central Broward Unincorporated Annexation Open Meeting
Where: Broward County Government Center, 115 So. Andrews Ave., Room 430, Fort Lauderdale.
When: Wednesday, Sept. 16, at 3 p.m.
Cost: Free and open to the public
Contact: Broward County Environmental Protection and Growth Management Department. 954-357-6612.