BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County's economic development guru could soon have a new carrot to lure industry into the community and hold on to what is already here.
A $500,000 carrot.
In their first meeting, the new Business and Economic Development Committee on Tuesday recommended setting aside $500,000 to help business development director Michael McHugh attract and retain industries.
The idea, brought before the committee by County Administrator David Hamilton, will next be considered by the County Commission at a meeting April 14.
"We believe this is yet another tool that is proactive'' to help create jobs and stimulate the economy, Hamilton said. "It could not come at a better time.''
The idea came to the committee after the members had spent more than three hours discussing the county's existing business climate, business history, housing programs and existing incentives to entice business expansion and development.
Hamilton said the funds would come from the county's $3 million budget reserve stabilization fund, and all expenditures would have to be approved by the County Commission. Specific criteria for how the money would be spent has not yet been developed but will be finalized at the April 14 meeting.
"The criteria, we need time to sort out, so that the money is spent wisely and judiciously,'' Hamilton told the committee.
While committee member Nick Nicholson said he supported giving McHugh additional tools to offer businesses, he questioned whether the criteria should be presented to the committee before they recommended the move to the county commissioners.
But County Commissioner John Druzbick, who chairs the committee, said the full commission would review the criteria before making a decision. That decision would be based on protecting the county while also giving it an advantage over other places trying to lure the same industries.
"We need to secure some of this new business,'' he said. "I would not want to delay it.''
Hamilton said that the sooner the new fund is in place to do that, the better.
"I applaud you on this. I think it's fantastic,'' said committee member Laurie Pizzo.
Activist Janey Baldwin, who opposes the use of committees to vet county issues before commission meetings, said she was shocked by Hamilton bringing the issue to the committee before taking it to the County Commission.
"It astounds me,'' she said. "It's a slap in their (the County Commission's) face.''
After the meeting, Hamilton defended the idea of taking $500,000 out of a reserve fund while Hernando is facing a $3 million budget shortfall this year and a predicted $10 million shortfall in the general fund next year.
Further constraining the county's regular operations by using this one-time allocation is proof of how much importance the county places on building a healthier economic base, Hamilton said.
Hamilton also said that McHugh has been dealing both with industries in the county that might be considering leaving and industries interested in locating here, but the nature of those discussions is confidential and he could give no further information.
During Tuesday's meeting, the committee also established several issues to discuss when they meet again April 21. Those include a discussion of development-related ordinances and policies, a marketing program for the county's housing assistance programs, ways to streamline the permitting process and discussion of the plan by Commissioner Jim Adkins to offer gift cards to people who buy foreclosed homes.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.