By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org
Hallandale Beach has diverted nearly a third of its Community Redevelopment Agency’s $11.6 million annual budget to pay for various city programs, including some apparently outside state guidelines for CRA expenditures.
That $3.5 million in questionable spending, identified by BrowardBulldog.org, is in addition to millions of dollars in CRA funds that Broward’s Inspector General has said were misspent as a result of “gross mismanagement” by city leaders.
Hallandale City Manager Renee C. Miller defended as legitimate each of the program allocations that were spread among numerous city departments.
Miller also challenged the authority of a Florida Attorney General’s opinion – cited repeatedly by the Inspector General in his highly critical report – that says CRA money should be used only for “brick and mortar” redevelopment projects to reduce slums within the CRA’s boundaries
“It’s an opinion,” Miller said. “What we dispute is the idea that we can never use [CRA] funds for anything other than bricks and mortar (projects).”
In Hallandale, the CRA covers about three-fourths of the city from I-95 to 14th Avenue and from Pembroke Road to County Line Road.
The Inspector General’s Office issued its final report about Hallandale in April after a yearlong investigation that was triggered by stories in BrowardBulldog.org and other news outlets. It was silent about funds parceled out to city departments.
Hallandale’s CRA is ostensibly autonomous, but like many other municipal CRAs around the state it is run by the city’s five commissioners, who also serve as its board of directors.
The CRA’s fiscal year runs from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30. Records show its funds were channeled to various departments:
- Police — $1,175,474 to pay for three programs aimed at reducing crime and enhancing safety. Each program pays for two to four police officers. The cost for those programs was $181,000 more than the previous year.
- Public Works/Utilities and Engineering – $690,000 for capital projects, such as pedestrian and crosswalk improvements; $138,906 for project management; $148,500 for landscaping and maintenance. That was about $100,000 less than was spent last year.
- Parks and Recreation – $376,695 for three new programs at Johnson and Foster parks for after-school care for students.
- Human Services –$159,600 for an after-school tutoring program; $217,661 for social worker services; $203,000 for jobs training. The cost of those programs was up about $16,000 from the previous year.
- Development Services — $175,246 for code compliance and $20,000 for planning and zoning related to matters that have regional impact. There were no CRA charges for these services in the previous year.
- City Hall operations — $236,000 to reimburse the cost of services provided to the CRA by the city manager, city clerk, and various city departments. This cost was $900,000 last year.
City Manager Miller said those funds were properly spent to reduce slum and blight in the CRA area, which covers three-fourths of the city.
“We want to have a higher level of service for the CRA area,” she said.
Miller said state laws governing CRAs specifically mentions the use of CRA funds for policing. She added that CRA funds for Parks and Recreation are allowable because they meet social service needs in the community.
CRA money sent to code enforcement is necessary to redo the city’s “archaic code” and is aimed at aiding redevelopment, she said.
Miller said Hallandale follows “best practices” guidelines, that its expenditures are allowable under state law and that they are in accordance with the city’s CRA program.
The $236,000 in operational fees that the city charged the CRA included $16,000 to rent offices at City Hall.
Other city departments are not charged rent. The city charges the CRA because it is a separate city agency that receives its own funding from a portion of property tax dollars collected in its area.
Hallandale, however, rents space in City Hall to the Hallandale Beach Area Chamber of Commerce for $1 a year.
“That’s comparing apples to oranges,” Miller said.
Still, Miller said Hallandale appears ready to change the way it spends CRA funds.
“There is a shift on the [commission] dais,” Miller said. “I think changes are coming, placing emphasis on bricks and mortar.”
That could be because the city has acquired considerable land around City Hall for park development. Within the past year plans have been outlined for a City Hall park and for other sites that fall under the scope of the CRA, including a new central fire station.