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After confusion, Tampa and Hillsborough officials try to improve economic incentive process

TAMPA — Last week's confusion over a $1.2 million incentive package for Pricewaterhouse­Coopers had local officials talking Monday about creating a process that is more clear, consistent and unhurried.

"This last one did not go as smoothly as everyone would like," said Bob McDonaugh, Tampa's acting economic development administrator.

So officials met to discuss ways to refine the process for the future.

On July 25, several days after the Tampa City Council and Hillsborough County Commission approved the incentives, a top PricewaterhouseCoop­ers executive said the firm never considered moving its operating center out of Tampa.

That disclosure surprised several council members and commissioners who said they were led to believe that a then-unnamed financial services firm needed incentives to keep 1,633 jobs in Tampa.

State law allows the identities of companies to remain confidential while local officials negotiate incentives, but PricewaterhouseCoop­ers identified itself as the company after the subsidies were approved.

At Monday's meeting, officials from the city and county met with executives from the nonprofit Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corp. and came up with at least four potential improvements:

• Giving city and county elected officials the same information in a standard format.

• Putting such requests on regular meeting agendas, giving elected officials time to review them in advance, instead of walking them on to the agendas just a day or two before the meeting as happened with the PricewaterhouseCoopers package.

• Having a staff member from the Economic Development Corp. on hand to answer questions. (EDC representatives were at the County Commission's meeting, but didn't speak.)

• Having the Economic Development Corp. provide elected officials with a briefing on the economic development process and how it works.

Those steps would help, City Council member Mary Mulhern said, but they wouldn't have necessarily given elected officials the information they should have had on this project.

"We still don't know whether they were planning to move or not," said Mulhern, who has said that elected officials were misled.

Mulhern said local officials also need to work through other questions, including whether they should even offer incentives to companies for retaining existing jobs — as opposed to creating new ones — and whether the identities of the companies should remain confidential.

The City Council has asked its staff for a report on the process used to consider the incentive package. On Wednesday, the County Commission is expected to discuss the Pricewaterhouse­Coopers project at the request of Commissioner Sandra Murman.

After Monday's meeting, county chief financial administrator Bonnie Wise would not say whether there will be a recommendation to proceed with the subsidy.

"Part of the problem is that we're still under a confidentiality agreement right now," she said.

"I think where we ended up is: This is still a good project, still a good company, good jobs."

McDonaugh agreed, saying the proposal requires Pricewat­erhouseCoopers to invest in a new building with an estimated cost of $78 million to receive the incentives. Not only that, but the particulars of the incentives will come back in a detailed agreement for another vote.

The firm plans to move into the building, being constructed in West Shore, in 2013.

McDonaugh noted the city wouldn't pay any incentives until 2017.

"We would have three or four years of property taxes before spending the first nickel," he said. "The taxpayers are protected."

Without saying the process broke down in this case, Wise said she expects officials involved in Monday's meeting will sit down again at some point.

"We all want to coordinate and communicate better, which I think is always a good thing," she said. "There's always room for improvement."

After confusion, Tampa and Hillsborough officials try to improve economic incentive process 08/01/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 2, 2011 1:15am]

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