Clearwater voters will decide whether businesses should get tax breaks

CLEARWATER — Voters will decide in November whether the city should give big tax breaks to new and growing businesses, the City Council voted Thursday night.

The city referendum question will appear on the general election ballot Nov. 6.

The proposed tax breaks would go to businesses that pledge to create at least 10 jobs and make $100,000 in property improvements. The businesses would be exempt from paying 75 percent of the taxes on those improvements every year for up to a decade.

The breaks would go to so-called target industries like manufacturing and health care, not retail superstores like Walmart.

The jobs the businesses created would need to pay more than $40,000 a year, Pinellas County's average salary.

A business paying $10 million for improvements like fixtures or equipment could save nearly $400,000 in taxes in the span of a decade under the program. Investing the minimum of $100,000 would save a business just under $4,000.

The tax incentives, officials said, could give the city an edge in luring new jobs. But they could also cut city property tax revenue, which has sunk 30 percent in five years.

A similar measure has passed in 20 Florida cities, including St. Petersburg and Tampa, where voters overwhelmingly approved the tax breaks last year.

However, Clearwater's program would be much more generous: There is no cap on the tax breaks, and they would last 10 years, compared with five years for the programs in Tampa and St. Petersburg.

Drew Harwell can be reached at (727) 445-4170 or dharwell@tampabay.com. Send letters to the editor at tampabay.com/letters.

Clearwater voters will decide whether businesses should get tax breaks 06/08/12 [Last modified: Friday, June 8, 2012 8:48pm]

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