Pastor Gary Reckart says church has waited two years for Hillsborough commissioners to pay up

TAMPA, Fla - "No to Hillsborough County."

Drive by Rock Church of Tampa off 15th Street North and you will see those words boldly displayed on the church's sign.

It's the very public way Pastor Gary Reckart has chosen to respond to an offer county commissioners made on his flood-damaged property.

"Our church members are saying, 'You can't destroy our church,'" Reckart said.

Reckart's one-acre property, which consists of two buildings, was severely damaged when Tropical Storm Debby dropped eight inches of rain in the area back in June 2012.

Two neighboring retention ponds that were built in 2011 overflowed and water surged on to the church's property.

"Water was about waist high," he said.

Carpeting had to be ripped out. Cracks formed in the floors and black mold is still growing. The church also lost thousands of dollars worth of furniture and other supplies.

Reckart wants to make repairs but feels the county should pay since it installed the retention ponds.

"We blame the county because the retention ponds they built back there did not do their job," Reckart said.

County maps show that Reckart's property is not in a flood zone.  Thus, he never bought flood insurance and has no money to make repairs.

"We have no money because all our money goes to the homeless and our ministries," he said.

COMMUNITY OUTREACH IMPACTED

The building behind the church is no longer useable, forcing the pastor to serve meals to those in need where he gives mass.

Five days a week, he removes all the chairs, sets up tables and serves about 70 people.

"You come here, you sit down, you eat and feel normal," said Robert Nelson, a parishioner who is homeless.

Nelson began attending the church two years ago when he fell ill and lost his home and car. He told ABC Action News he depends on the church for food and counseling.

"There are other places you could go get a sandwich, but you'd have to eat it on the curb," Nelson said.

Nelson used to use the shower and laundry machines located in the building behind the church. Since the flooding, that has not been possible.

"I can't do that any longer because they've closed the building down back there," Nelson said.

Reckart took his concerns to county commissioners one week after the flooding. Fast forward two years, and the stalemate between both parties is heating up.

County leaders sent Reckart a written offer to buy his property as part of a development project in the area.

"Hillsborough County is in the process of acquiring parcels needed for the University Area Project," wrote Ross Ferdinand, a land agent with the county's real estate and facility services department.

The letter, dated April 14, 2014, notes how an appraiser hired by the county valued the church property at $140,000 on Jan. 7, 2014.

The offer is good until April 25 but Reckart has already refused and sent a certified letter to county leaders.

In the letter, he calls the appraisal "flawed, artificial, contradictory and very unprofessional."

Reckart said the amount offered is too low and that the appraisal came after the church suffered significant flooding damage. He said county leaders are now just looking at the "as is" value of the property.

"All of the values of the improvements were either zeroed out because of the estimated cost of the repairs due to Debby flooding, or by drastic improper depreciation calculations," Reckart wrote.

Reckart noted that based on the appraiser's assessment, the value of the property is actually $846,375.

Reckart is now reaching out to his parishioners and the public for help. He is taking donations and intends to have a yard sale May 3 in hopes of raising enough money to hire a lawyer.

COUNTY COMMISSIONER RESPONDS

District 2 County Commissioner Victor Crist told ABC Action News he was unaware that such a low offer was made to the pastor.

"Nine months ago after we completed all of our meetings with staff, I was assured that this was a done deal, worked out, that this property was going to be acquired by the county for a fair price," Crist said.

Crist was operating under the assumption a FEMA grant came through and the pastor would have been offered substantially more money.

He said once ABC Action News brought the current offer to his attention he immediately called a staff meeting.

"The outcome of that meeting is that staff has made this a priority again and that the county is going to make good on their original commitment of acquiring this property at a fair price that everyone can be happy with," Crist said.

Crist could not say the dollar amount of the new offer.

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