As a former reporter who used to cover politics on the Treasure Coast, I try to keep up on what is happening in both the city of Fort Pierce and St. Lucie County. But somehow I overlooked Fort Pierce’s recent moves to annex major commercial corridors into the city.
That is, until last week when Sunrise Ford received a letter saying the city plans to annex all the property along U.S. 1 between Midway and Ulrich roads. I headed right to City Hall and from the documents I received about the proposal, it was easy to figure out why Fort Piece wants to add those 112 acres. The taxable value of those parcels totals almost $34 million. The city will get an extra $223,371 next year in tax revenue if the annexation is approved. With the recent construction and improvements along the corridor, that figure is bound to go up significantly in subsequent years.
Sunrise Ford went before the Fort Pierce Planning board Tuesday to voice our concern about the annexation. We wanted to make sure it complied with state law and the city’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan. We were particularly interested in determining whether or not we would be receiving a better level of services from the city for the hundreds of thousands of dollars we will have to pay in city taxes over the next decade.
We were stunned when the board‘s chairman and assistant city attorney questioned Sunrise Ford’s allegiance to Fort Pierce and its residents. Instead of addressing the services the city could provide to our dealership, as well as the other businesses along the corridor, those two city officials took umbrage that Sunrise Ford did not embrace the proposed annexation . They insinuated Sunrise Ford did not care about the city or its residents, which was just plain insulting.
Ever since Sunrise Ford was incorporated in downtown Fort Pierce in 1932, it has been one of Fort Pierce’s biggest boosters. Over the years it has sponsored baseball teams, fishing and golf tournaments and many other city related events. Sunrise Ford was a major donor for the renovation of the Sunrise Theater, is an annual sponsor of the A.E. Backus Museum, consistently supports Main Street and was a main sponsor of the Downtown Business Association’s monthly exhibits on Second Street.
Sunrise Ford donated more than $100,000 to Learn To Read, a Fort Pierce based adult literacy program that has helped thousands of Fort Pierce residents. The dealership has generously subsidized the purchase of vehicles for the Restoration House, Mustard Seed and many other Fort Pierce churches and charities. We are business owners who actually live in the city.
As a business, we have to weigh the economic benefits of paying substantially more in taxes for what appears to be no additional meaningful services. We did sign a contract with the city more than 10 years ago agreeing to annex should our property become contiguous with the city limits. But the city’s annexation strategy appears to be nothing more than a way to generate money for a financially strapped City Hall.
The Planning Board recommended by a vote of 7-3 that the annexation be approved by the City Commission when it meets on June 1. We don’t know what the final outcome will be, but want to assure our fellow Fort Pierce residents that despite those remarks made at the Planning Board meeting, we will continue to support the city’s worthwhile endeavors.
We would also suggest that the city look at other ways to put its house in financial order. During the boom years awhile back, the city had an opportunity to save some money for leaner times. Instead it went further into debt, buying property that it now finds difficult to unload.
So now the city is banking on the businesses along South U.S.1 which provide hundreds of jobs for its residents, to help bail it out of the mess it is in. And then we had to listen to city officials criticize Sunrise Ford for questioning its motives? It’s enough to make me want to go back to reporting about the shenanigans in local government.