MANATEE COUNTY -- A referendum on a property tax break for businesses expanding or moving into Manatee County has quietly gone forward without much controversy as anti-tax activists focus on a sales tax referendum designed to pay for indigent health care.
Billed as a referendum for "New Jobs Now," property tax breaks for businesses could last up to 10 years depending on the size of the expansion and the number of jobs the business creates if voters approve the ballot initiative.
The Economic Development Ad Valorem Tax Exemption, also known as EDATE on referendum materials, is designed to make Manatee County more attractive to businesses and more competitive with the surrounding counties that already have the tool, according to Sharon Hillstrom, president and chief executive officer of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corporation. Hillstrom said that Manatee County misses out on the opportunity to even make a pitch to businesses looking to relocate because some businesses don't consider Manatee to be competitive.
"We're the only county in the Tampa Bay region that doesn't have this tool," she said.
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But having the referendum on the same ballot as a controversial sales tax referendum, could be the undoing of EDATE.
Opponents who have organized against the sales tax are telling voters to vote against both referendum measures.
While the tax break is designed to level the playing field for Manatee County, which is surrounded by counties that already offer tax abatement, opponents say that it interferes with the free market.
"Why should the county be choosing which company gets free money and which doesn't?" asked Steve Vernon of Tea Party Manatee.
The Tea Party has been a vocal opponent of the sales tax referendum and has been going door to door to defeat the tax. Vernon said that even though they don't have a lot of signs out opposing EDATE, when they go door-to-door they are telling voters to defeat both of the issues on the ballot.
Essentially the false premise here is that it's all about jobs," Vernon said. "You can do a lot of things to attract jobs without favoring one company over another. Cut taxes and business regulations across the board."
Vernon lives in Sarasota County which offers tax abatement to new and expanding businesses.
The tax abatement is designed to attract certain industries to Manatee County. The Economic Development Corp. is working to attract high tech industries and higher paying jobs.
The organization is asking that six specific industries be targeted for the tax abatement program.
Those industries are:
Financial and Professional Services, such as banking, insurance, engineering and accounting
Homeland Security and Defense, such as navigation aids, ammunition, optical instruments, shipbuilding and repair and computer systems design.
Aviation/Aerospace, such as aircraft and aircraft parts manufacturing, flight simulator training, satellite communications, space technologies and launch operations.
Infotech, such as digital media, software, electronics, telecommunications, modeling, simulation and training.
Life Sciences, such as biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, diagnostic testing and medical devices.
Cleantech, such as biomass and biofuels processing, energy equipment manufacturing, photovoltaic and environmental consulting.
Hillstrom said businesses like IMG Academy are attracting industries interested in things like sports related research and development and that Manatee County needs to have incentives to get them to move here.
"We are literally becoming the Silicon Valley of sports R & D," Hillstrom said.
Proponents of a proposed property tax break for new businesses or existing businesses that expand, say it is a tool designed to bring more jobs to Manatee County. Opponents say the process gets in the way of the free enterprise system by allowing a handful of people to favor a few businesses for tax abatements.
Steve Vernon, with Tea Party Manatee, said his organization is opposed to the June 18 referendum, favoring cutting taxes and regulations to lure businesses here.
"There are better ways to bring jobs here than letting seven people choose which companies get money," Vernon said.
Rodger Dowdell, 941-526-6680
Sharon Hillstrom is president and chief executive officer of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp.
John Neal, president of John Neal Homes, has donated $10,000 to the Jobs Now PAC in support of an upcoming ballot initiative in the Manatee County special election on June 18, 2013.
"Every other county in the state has incentives for business except Manatee," said John Neal. "I gave the PAC supporting this initiative this substantial donation because it is crucial to allow our commission to support our business people with exemptions if they see fit. It's the right thing to do for our County," said Neal.
The Economic Development Ad Valorem Tax Exemption (EDATE) initiative states: Shall the board of county commissioners of this county be authorized to grant, pursuant to section 3, article VII o the state constitution, property tax exemptions to new businesses and expansions of existing businesses that are expected to create new, full time jobs in the county?
It is one of two initiatives that Manatee County voters will decide about at the specialelection.
"John Neal understands the importance of EDATE as it relates to the future success of our local economy," said Sharon Hillstrom, president and CEO of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corporation. "We are extremely grateful to John Neal for his enthusiastic support of this important economic development tool. Currently, Manatee County is the only county in the Tampa Bay region that does not offer EDATE. Consequently, Manatee County is at a competitive disadvantage. In order for Manatee County to be successful in attracting and retaining companies that create high skill, high wage jobs, we need to be on an even playing field. We need voters to understand the importance of EDATE, and vote to approve EDATE on June 18," Hillstrom noted.