Pasco County commissioners shouldn't nickle-and-dime an 8-month-old industrial recruiting fund intended to help lure substantial new investments and jobs to the county.
Likewise, commissioners can't turn a deaf ear to existing industries seeking to expand locally. That was the dilemma Tuesday when a commission majority, with only Commissioner Ted Schrader dissenting, said it would use the new money to help an old business. It is a poor precedent, even though the amount in question is relatively small — $57,000 from a $2-million account.
More appropriately, commissioners should establish a separate fund to help existing companies. The account could be financed through an annual appropriation or by tapping the interest accrued from the original $2-million economic incentive fund. Commissioners discussed those ideas, but never followed through. It is unwise to leave the issue unresolved.
The county established the $2-million account last year as a potential incentive to a big-ticket company moving new, high-paying jobs to Pasco. The fund came in response to a research venture between drug maker Merck and the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute that picked Hillsborough County over Pasco in late 2006.
The inventive, however, already is less than envisioned. Commissioners originally wanted to set aside $2.5-million, but trimmed the allocation to help balance the county budget. Earlier Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed a $7.5-million state appropriation to bolster the county's contribution, and money in next year's state budget could face the same fate.
The first customer for the county dollars wasn't a new company. Turbine Diagnostics Services Inc., which services power generation equipment, wants to move from leased space at the West Pasco Industrial Park to a building it would acquire near the Gunn Highway corridor in Odessa.
We do not disagree with assisting the company. The county previously agreed to $57,000 worth of impact fee reimbursements when Turbine said it would build a 10,000-square-foot building. The company instead began negotiating the purchase of a vacant 30,000-square-foot building, so it is reasonable for the county to honor the value of the earlier incentives. Turbine, with 18 full-time employees and 15 temporary workers, plans to consolidate its west Pasco and Hernando operations in Odessa.
The company's investment in Pasco is welcome. It brings seven jobs paying an average salary of greater than $80,000 and a total net benefit of 10 years worth of tax payments to the county general fund of more than $81,000.
The dollars repaid by Turbine would be good starting point for a new incentive fund specifically for existing businesses that create jobs via acquisition of existing buildings, rather than new construction. That will signal a county commitment to companies already here and reduce the temptation for commissioners to tap its industrial recruiting money every time their other pockets are empty.