The Hernando County Commission's economic stimulus plan includes continued gimmickry and potentially higher costs to taxpayers. Commissioners recently turned their attention toward steering government business to local vendors.
This ploy comes on the heels of repeated failures to jump start residential home building by discounting or waiving impact fees assessed on new construction. Both are flawed.
Last week, the commission approved a new ordinance giving Hernando County-based companies up to a 5 percent price cushion when bidding to supply goods and services to the county. Basically, it means the county will be willing to give a local vendor $105,000 for products that could be provided for $100,000 by an out-of-county competitor.
A unanimous commission said this is a good policy, contending it will help the high unemployment rate even though there is no empirical evidence it has worked in other locales. Even Commissioner Diane Rowden shared that sentiment, initially announcing her opposition to the measure she characterized as ineffective and a hindrance to free-market competition. Then she flip-flopped.
This is about public relations, not sound public policy by a commission that continues to struggle with economic development in a county too reliant on the home-building industry. The desire to spend local government money with area companies contributing to the tax base is understandable, but it is counterproductive when it means higher costs to the public. That should be clear to a commission considering a proposed 2014 budget that includes a 24 percent increase in the property tax rate. Commissioners should be scrounging for savings, not bankrolling higher purchasing costs.
Commissioner Wayne Dukes argued that if the county didn't try the new procurement rule "we'll never know if it works or not. If a year from now we say this isn't working, that's fine.''
Except Dukes' logic is undermined by the commission's own previous actions. Each of the past three years, commissioners have been told their reduced/waived impact fee strategies have failed to stimulate the local economy and, as of 2012, had cost the county and school district $4 million to build classrooms, roads and other public infrastructure. (Those costs eventually will be picked by all taxpayers, not just owners of newly built homes and commercial structures.) And each time, a bull-headed commission majority ignored the evidence and continued with a faulty policy catering to an influential special interest.
The purchasing ordinance is no different and commissioners shouldn't expect different results. The ordinance, incidentally, defines a local company as any venture located within the county for at least a year. That should be changed. Considering the brouhaha a few years ago about contracting work surrounding the Hernando Beach channel dredge, the commission could at least ensure locally preferred vendors are companies current on their property tax and fee payments to the county.
The last thing the commission should be doing is funneling excessive purchasing costs to companies that are in arrears on their public obligations.