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The People's Republic of Area A

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"I understand that you have to revitalize those areas, but that's something that's a long way off," Eggelletion says. "It's going to take a lot of money, a lot of capital," he claims, to renovate the many vacant buildings lining major Area A throughways such as Broward Boulevard, Sunrise Boulevard, and NW 27th Avenue.

Meanwhile, pressure is growing for both Area A and surrounding communities to find a solution to the problem of Area A's unincorporated status. State and county representatives are one in saying they want the county out of the business of providing municipal services (such as water and sewer) to places like Area A. And they haven't hesitated to apply pressure to residents' wallets.

For instance, county dollars that go toward providing municipal services to unincorporated areas are required to come from taxes collected in those areas. That means, as more and more areas are annexed, taxpayers in the remaining unincorporated areas face inexorably rising burdens.

Last year households in unincorporated areas got hit with a 23 percent tax increase, which was meant as a wake-up call to residents of unincorporated areas to get busy getting annexed. Along with the stick for the unincorporated areas, the county is providing a carrot for cities to annex areas by pouring millions of dollars into infrastructure upgrades and improvements.

Area A, for example, is set to get $70 million in improved water and sewage lines, says Gary Smith, director of the county Neighborhood Improvements Program. Economic Assistance Director Sue Fejes reels off a list of programs -- for housing rehabilitation, façade improvements, commercial loan guarantees, enterprise zones -- that apply to Area A. Also, the state is currently improving and widening Highway 441 from Interstate 595 north to Sunrise Boulevard.

Yet, while the improvements are meant to make the area more attractive to cities such as Plantation and Fort Lauderdale, they are having the effect of making incorporation more feasible, too.

Speaking of the Nova report, principal author Rosenbaum says, "This report can be used to make an argument for either side. Yes, the area is about $100 million short [in property tax base] of being viable. But look, that amount represents only about half a mile of [commercial property along] University Boulevard. It's not that much, really."

The draft of the report also doesn't mention that there are at least six other existing cities in Florida that have populations and total taxable property values similar to those of Area A under the scenario described in Rosenbaum's report. Two of those cities, North Lauderdale and Lauderdale Lakes, are located in Broward County, while two others, Greenacres and Lake Worth, are in Palm Beach. The other two are Fort Walton Beach in Okaloosa County and Homestead in Miami-Dade County.

Jack Tobin has studied the issue of incorporation of a new city at length and has no stake in the matter, having left the delegation last year. Tobin believes that "it could happen, but it would not be easy."

In addition to their economic arguments, opponents of incorporation have also made use of a divide-and-conquer strategy that so far has proved effective. The tiny neighborhood of Golden Heights, for example, is likely to vote to go with Fort Lauderdale if a referendum is ever held, Major admits.

"We are a neighborhood of single-family homes," says Art Kennedy, chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings and a resident of Golden Heights. "We have nothing in common with those people on welfare," he says referring to poorer areas of Area A to the south of Golden Heights.

The residents of Area A also don't seem upset about losing Golden Heights. "What are they, three blocks wide?" asks long-time Area A resident Lois Howell. "Hell, let 'em go. We don't need 'em."

When people talk about their feelings toward Joe Major, be they his allies or his enemies, they usually start off praising him.

"I admire his enthusiasm and his willingness to challenge the system," says Eggelletion.

"I think he's a decent man," says Carlton Moore.
"I have nothing against Joe Major," says Art Kennedy.
Then come the brickbats -- usually immediately after a sharply pronounced "But..."

"He doesn't understand the issue," says Moore.
"He's offensive," says Kennedy.
Six months ago Major berated Eggelletion at a Washington Park homeowners association meeting while the politician was trying to talk about one of his pet projects, an empowerment program for homeowners associations (a surefire political winner in front of that crowd).

"All of a sudden, Joe [Major] comes in, and he starts needling Joe Eggelletion for living in a white neighborhood," recalls a county staffer who was present at the meeting. "It was really bad. So that's how Joe [Major] tends to shoot himself in the foot. Here's someone whose support he's going to need to reach his goals, and he's questioning his motives -- questioning his race! -- and in public!"

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Paul Belden

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