TAMPA — Hoping to spark economic growth and create jobs, Tampa officials will ask voters to consider offering property tax breaks to new or expanded businesses.
"If passed by the voters, this is another tool in our tool chest," said City Council chairman and mayoral candidate Thomas Scott.
Council members unanimously voted Thursday to place a referendum to create the exemptions on the March 1 ballot. If voters say yes, the city could give businesses up to a 100 percent exemption from property taxes for the assessed value of new or expanded operations.
Companies also could get a tax break for investments in tangible property — furniture, fixtures, machinery, tools, signs, supplies and any other equipment used in a business.
The tax waiver could last for 10 years. It would apply only to city taxes, not those levied by the School Board or other local taxing authorities.
In November, Hillsborough County voters approved the creation of a similar economic incentive program for county taxes by a vote of 64 to 36 percent.
Details of the county program are still being worked out, but Hillsborough officials have discussed offering no more than $2 million in tax breaks per year. They also have considered giving longer-lasting tax breaks to companies that create more jobs.
Mayor Pam Iorio's administration brought the issue forward in the city partly to prevent the creation of an uneven playing field if the tax breaks existed in the county, but not in the city.
If Tampa voters approve the program, companies would have to apply for the tax break, and would be required to provide details about their new operations and what equipment they bought to run them.
Before the city could approve the requests, the Hillsborough County property appraiser would provide a breakdown of what the city could expect in property tax revenue, what impact previously awarded property tax exemptions would be expected to have on that revenue and how much tax revenue the city would lose from the requested exemption.
Prior to Thursday's vote, the proposal gained the support of at least one other candidate for mayor.
In a letter to the City Council, former council member Bob Buckhorn said passing the proposal "would send a clear message that Tampa is open and eager for business."
"Historically, Florida has suffered from an inability to offer incentives to businesses, which has put us at a competitive disadvantage," Buckhorn said.
He said the city could use the tax breaks to target companies in biotechnology and life sciences, financial services, defense, cybersecurity and maritime industries.