NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County can't wait 10 years to collect the full $45 million of 1-cent sales taxes it has earmarked for economic development, business leaders told county commissioners Tuesday.
That's why the Pasco Economic Development Council asked to spend the bulk of the money now, with more than $20 million to be used for an industrial park, a convention center and a training academy that would offer apprenticeships with local businesses.
"We need jobs now," EDC president John Hagen said during a workshop in which he urged commissioners to act sooner rather than later. The county would have to find a way to borrow the money up front and repay it from the projected $4.5 million that is supposed to be collected each year. Hagen said spending the money now would not necessarily cost more as construction costs are on the rise each year.
Spending it now, he said, "would basically be a wash."
Plus, he said, a decade is enough time for the country to slip back into a recession, and Pasco is still trying to recover from the one that hit hard in 2008.
In a presentation, EDC members said the allocation is in line with the county's strategic plans as well as recommendations from the Urban Land Institute, a national expert planning group that visited the county this past fall. The panel encouraged the county to devote 75 percent of its resources to existing businesses and entrepreneurs. It also recommended focusing on health care jobs.
Such an investment would also generate income, allow the money to be used as a match for other revenue sources such as grants.
EDC leaders propose spending the bulk of the money, $20.575 million, for what they call product development. That category includes the convention center, which Hagen said also could be used for community functions such as high school graduations.
It also includes $5.5 million to help build an industrial park and $500,000 to help fund the job training center. The plan also calls for spending $6.25 million to buy smaller parcels of land, repackage it and sell it to developers, $5.5 million to develop a business park and $2.875 million to put up a spec building to lure a new business needing space quickly.
"Maybe next time an Amazon comes asking for sites we would have something to offer," EDC chairman Dewey Mitchell said. He said the company, which located in south Hillsborough, did approach Pasco about a site, but the county had nothing that could be converted quickly. The company had wanted to be up and running by the 2014 holiday season.
The other categories are $12.7 million for entrepreneurship, which includes $5.5 million for a business incubator. Hagen said the new facility would not replace smaller ones in Dade City and a soon-to-open incubator in New Port Richey.
"We would call it an accelerator," he said.
The training center would be part of an apprentice program modeled after those used in Germany. It would be used in partnership with the Pasco County School District's career academies.
Another $3.725 million would be spent on branding and marketing Pasco County.
The workshop Tuesday was more like a brainstorming session, with no firm decisions made. Staff will have to study the proposal and come up with specifics to be presented later.
But January, when the tax starts being collected, is just around the corner, Hagen said, and it's not too early to start figuring out how to use the revenue.
"The Penny for Pasco is a wonderful gift that the taxpayer has given our county," Hagen said. "We need to start making some plans."