State Politics

Manatee marine industry hoping for boost from bill

MANATEE — Some local companies are rooting for measures under consideration in the Florida Legislature meant to preserve boatyards and marinas that dot state waterways.

House Bill 7127 and its Senate counterparts would set guidelines to be used by property appraisers in determining how to assess “working waterfront property,” according to a House staff analysis of the measure.

It would also implement terms of a constitutional amendment passed in 2008.

“If it’s going to lower our taxes, it would certainly help our business,” said Kari Hicks, a marketing representative for Chris-Craft, which manufactures boats at its Manatee County plant, 8161 15th St. E. “Incentives like that would help us, as well as other companies.”

“Reducing taxes just makes it easier to keep your bottom line strong, and reduces the burden of operating a business in Florida in a tough economy,” she added.

Another local anxious for passage of the measure is Gary Alderman, vice president of Palmetto’s Snead Island Boat Works, Inc.

“It’d be good if they can get it passed, but I guess there is a little problem defining ‘working waterfront,’” Alderman said. “I’m not sure what their hold-up is.”

State Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, said he favors the measure, working its way through both chambers.

“We’ve got to do something,” Bennett said Tuesday.

In 2008, voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment after people like bait shop or marina owners complained they were hit with outsized property tax increases because they were near waterfront high-rise condos or waterfront resorts, said Keyna Cory, coordinator for Save Our Waterfronts and a senior lobbyist for Associated Industries of Florida.

Under the terms of bills now being considered, if a business qualified as a “working waterfront” property, it would be assessed on the basis of “current use,” and not on “highest and best use,” which would help marine businesses, she said.

“Our maritime industry is so important to Florida, it’s a $16 billion economic impact, and they employ over 200,000 Floridians,” said Cory. “This will help take the pressure off.”

Among properties that may be classified as “working waterfront” are marinas and drystacks open to the public; marine manufacturing facilities, and commercial fishing facilities among others, according to the House staff analysis.

The House bill is key in making the state more business-friendly for marine-related operations, said Frank Herhold, executive director of the Marine Industries Association of Florida.

“This is a huge, huge issue for Florida’s working waterfront,” Herhold said. “It’s gratifying to see that implementation language finalized. We’re just really looking forward to seeing this get done.”

The Miami Herald/ St. Petersburg Times Tallahassee Bureau contributed to this report.