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The People's Republic of Area A

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That's the kind of rhetoric that could cost Eggelletion votes, and he angrily denies any political motive in opposing incorporation. "This [incorporation] would raise taxes, and it would lower quality of life." He also responds in kind, with some fiery accusations of his own targeted against Major. "I question his ethics," Eggelletion says. "He misleads people, he tells untruths.... He goes behind your back."

For all their mutual loathing, however, the two men seem fated to work together. Major needs the support of the state delegation, and Eggelletion needs the votes of the community.

A decade ago Eggelletion might have been able to muscle a proposal such as splitting up Area A through the legislative delegation, and that would have been the end of it. In those days, "you could wake up and read in the newspaper that your neighborhood had been annexed," recalls Tobin. "But those days are gone."

Now, although the delegation does technically have the power to pass a bill that would coerce a city into annexing an area it may not want -- or, conversely, to force a city to de-annex an area that it does want -- power lies with the residents of the area to be annexed. Now any proposed change in city boundaries requires a referendum to pass. If residents vote down an annexation proposal, the proposal is dead. "The ultimate power is with the people," Tobin says.

Three blocks west of the Broward Sheriff's Office headquarters on Broward Boulevard, a strange-looking building sits far back from the road in the rear of a cracked asphalt lot. In the strong midafternoon daylight, the building's hot pink and purple façade and garish sign ("Ecstasy," in letters of cursive neon) seem painfully bright.

The building used to be a Ponderosa Steak House; now it's a strip club. Two doors down is a day care center run by the Hope Outreach Community Ministry. In fact, from Ecstasy's liquor-bottle-strewn rear parking lot, one can easily see and hear about a dozen kids romping and gallivanting in Hope Ministry's back yard. All that separates the kids from the strippers is a pair of rusty chainlink fences.

Heading west one finds signs like "Available, up to 20,000 square feet" and "Blood Donors... Come on in... No appointment necessary" in between boarded-up storefronts and broken windows.

It's clear that Area A is economically challenged. Long-time residents recall the intersection of Highway 441 and Broward Boulevard as being the commercial center of Area A -- indeed, the central shopping district for much of the county. Thriving strip malls stood on every corner, including the landmark Gateway 7 Mall on the northwest corner, with shops and businesses stretching for blocks down both roads.

But over the last 20 years, this intersection has undergone a dramatic collapse, even as job-creating engines such as Sawgrass Mills Mall and the National Car Rental Center have risen in new cities out west.

Last year Thomas Gotart, a Miami-based real estate consultant, explored the option of purchasing Gateway 7 but bowed out. The venture appeared risky, he says, in part because local residents lack purchasing power. "You know something I learned," he says. "From Davie [Boulevard] to Oakland Park [Boulevard], there's not a single major-chain grocery store between 441 and the interstate. I couldn't figure out how to make the numbers work."

That's precisely the point of those who oppose incorporation. Beyond all the political problems, beyond all the personality conflicts, they say, is the simple fact that the area does not have the property tax base to sustain a city.

"I don't think people realize just how expensive it is to maintain a city, much less start one," says Carlton Moore. Last year, at the request of the BCCC, the county contracted with Nova Southeastern University to study the feasibility of the incorporation of Area A.

"Based on current taxable values, the millage rate that a proposed municipality must assess to serve the needs of the community would far exceed the community's ability to pay and would exceed the comparable rates of the adjacent cities," a near-final draft of the report concludes.

Interestingly, according to the study's criteria, the day care center is a worse blight on the area than the strip club. That's because strip clubs, though not desirable to have in neighborhoods, do pay taxes at least. In Area A, fully 43.5 percent of the total property value is untaxable because it belongs to a church, service organization, or government. "Astonishing," says Irv Rosenbaum, a former Davie city manager and the principal author of the Nova report.

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Paul Belden

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