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Hillsborough commissioners endorse tax breaks for businesses

TAMPA — Voters last month overwhelmingly passed a tax break program for new or expanding businesses in Hillsborough County without any details on how the subsidy actually will work.

County commissioners unanimously agreed in concept to some of the broad brush strokes Wednesday, with a public hearing on details in coming weeks.

The program would waive up to 50 percent of the county portion of property taxes for business that create at least 10 jobs. The waiver would last from five to 10 years, a scale that would slide based on the number and type of jobs.

Businesses that locate in distressed or environmentally damaged areas of the county could qualify for waivers of up to 75 percent of future property tax bills.

"The object of this tax exemption … is to create new jobs, expand our long-term tax base, stimulate redevelopment areas, diversify our local economy and also enhance our ability to compete with other counties in the state," said Commissioner Ken Hagan, who championed the initiative. "Unlike most of our incentive programs, this ... will also benefit our local businesses that want to expand."

With the exception of businesses opening or expanding in distressed areas, wages offered by those receiving breaks would have to average at least 15 percent better than the median wage, currently $45,564 annually. That requirement can be waived if the business can show it has made a capital investment of at least $200,000 per job.

The break would apply to improvements made to a piece of property, not what is assessed for the land itself. It would apply to a variety of industries targeted by the state and exclude most retail businesses, restaurants, hotels, mining operations and utilities. There is an allowance for "destination retail" businesses that attract out-of-town shoppers for overnight stays.

A public hearing must take place before each exemption is approved by commissioners.

Commissioner Kevin Beckner won unanimous support to explore expanding the 75 percent break to businesses in community redevelopment areas, typically distressed areas where officials encourage redevelopment.

"I didn't think this plan did enough to help minorities," he said after the meeting, while praising the overall effort.

Commissioner Sandra Murman, who also applauded the initiative, said she doesn't think it offers much for small business owners. She asked for a future discussion of what the county might do to help them.

Even Hagan asked about some of the restrictions. The program initially will cap overall tax breaks to $2 million annually countywide, for instance. He said he would have liked more help for small businesses, but the state sets minimum standards for jobs created.

Commissioners agreed to revisit the rules they do control in a year.

Bill Varian can be reached at varian@sptimes.com at (813) 226-3387.

Hillsborough commissioners endorse tax breaks for businesses 12/15/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 15, 2010 11:17pm]
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