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Brooksville City Council to look at company's tax break

BROOKSVILLE — Back in 2006, business at Flagstone Pavers was humming along well enough that the company decided it was time to expand. The company poured $4 million into its facility off Cobb Road, with the hope of hiring up to 30 workers.

The plant expansion spelled good things for Flagstone if it met that goal. A city tax abatement program meant the company would be exempt from 100 percent of the property taxes on the improvements for five years, and 75 percent of the taxes for an additional five years as long as the company maintained at least 66 employees.

But the collapsing construction market cut into that effort, and the company failed to meet the city's requirement. Last year, the company reported it had 45 employees, 21 fewer than it needs to keep its tax exemption.

On Monday, the Brooksville City Council will take another look at Flagstone's exemption status and consider whether to continue granting nearly $29,000 in tax breaks or a reduced amount based on the annual employment figures.

Geoff Bond, Flagstone's chief executive officer, said that though his company never quite met the city's employment guidelines, the investment in a new plant showed his company's commitment to remain a viable employer in Brooksville.

"The reason we built the new plant was to continue meeting future demands," Bond said. "Had we not done that, we would probably have 12 less employees than we do now."

The company, which celebrated its 10th anniversary last month, is the fourth largest manufacturer of paving stone products in Florida. In addition, the company also manufactures concrete retaining wall block for used in landscaping.

Dennis Wilfong, the city's volunteer business ambassador, said that Flagstone is unique in that its products are made solely from locally obtained materials.

"They're not like Wal-Mart, in that every dollar they turn stays in the community," Wilfong said. "They've shown that they're team players. I think they deserve some leeway from the council."

Wilfong said he would like to see the council keep Flagstone's exemption for another year, or at least come up with a fairer way of assessing its annual exemption.

"When they wrote the guidelines, no one was thinking we were going to be hit so hard by a recession," Wilfong said. "This company has stuck through it. I would hope the council works toward not discouraging them."

Tax abatement incentives for businesses were originally approved in a city referendum in 2000 and renewed by voters last year. The council ultimately decides the limits of each tax break.

Council member Joe Bernardini said he would be in favor of tweaking the existing rules, but not at the expense of taxpayers.

"You want to draw businesses to the city, so you realize that you're going to lose money for a while," Bernardini said. "But I'm not in favor of giving away the store. Those policies were set up for a reason, and we need to stick to them."

Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or lneill@sptimes.com.

Brooksville City Council to look at company's tax break 04/01/11 [Last modified: Friday, April 1, 2011 8:30pm]
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