BRADENTON -- At Tuesday's BOCC meeting, commissioners approved to adopt Resolution R-13-052, an ad valorem tax exemption referendum to be placed on the ballet in a special election to be held on June 18, 2013. Supporters say it is another apparatus for their economic tool box, which will bring development investment. Opponents call it a public gamble that, too often, does not pay off.
In August of 2012, the Board of County Commissioners voted to approve Resolution R-12-159 authorizing referendum language to be placed on the November 6, 2012 general election ballot for an ad valorem tax exemption. But the board then withdrew the request on August 21, 2012, citing insufficient time for public understanding and input.
Sharon Hillstrom, President and CEO of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corporation returned to the commission Tuesday, saying the public and the business community were now ready and waiting to go forward with the Economic Development Ad Valorem Tax Exemption (EDATE).
Hillstrom says, "We are the hole in the donut," adding, "We are surrounded by counties that offer tax abatements and we don't know what economic activity we are missing," a theme she repeated many times through her presentation.
EDATE will now most likely be placed on the June 18 ballot, along side the half-cent sales tax increase, also approved Tuesday for referendum.
A long string of questions came from Commissioner Robin DiSabatino, who wasn't completely convinced this was the right tool for the county. "What happens when someone else comes along with a similar proposal, we are obligated to give them the same deal," said DiSabatino. "It's arbitrary ... It's not spelled out."
County Administrator Ed Hunzeker said, "We left it open, so that it goes before the board." DiSabatino wasn't convinced, asking, "What qualifies as new? How much is it, 50 percent, 100 percent and for how long?"
Hunzeker said it was set up to go before the board each time a company applied, and that such parameters would be decided at that time, on a case by case basis.
Hillstrom said some business would come from Enterprise Florida (the state's economic development corporation), and that the advertised tax abatement would bring more investment to the county, saying, "There have been recent calls asking if we have a tax abatement program."
John Barnott, Director of Building and Development Services for Manatee County, had come down from his office to address the commission on Hillstrom's behalf, "I am on the Board of the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance," said Barnott, "and I will say some very large interests have been inquiring." Barnott started to walk away and turned back to add, "some very large interests."
DiSabatino's skepticism is not without merit. Many of the surrounding counties that Hillstrom referred to have experienced public/private deals that have gone belly-up at great cost to the public. Barnott spoke again, saying, "There is nothing to lose, if there was nothing there to start with."
Opponents argue that there are too many large buildings that sit vacant, because some company was attracted to the pile of free-bees, instead of sound, well-funded investments. Others complain that many of the giveaways go to businesses for things they would have done anyway and can create an uneven playing field for competitors who don't secure the breaks.
The discussion finally went to a vote after promises to scrutinize each for job creation and market placement. The measure was approved unanimously.