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Budget spares Pinellas bonds

More than $26-million in Pinellas County development bonds are safe from the budget ax. The tax-free bond program will be restored to the federal budget. County officials were concerned about losing the federal program, which helped Pinellas persuade 68 companies to either expand or move to the peninsula _ creating 7,500 jobs.

But the budget passed by Congress last weekend reinstates the program, which allows local governments to issue tax-free bonds to expanding industries.

"I'm feeling a lot better now that I know we're back in business," said William M. Castoro, executive director of the Pinellas County Industry Council, which administers the program. "It was a long, long haul."

Since 1979, the county has issued $152-million in bonds, Castoro said. The bulk of that money was designed to help local industries expand their operations in Pinellas County and to help offset the costs of moving manufacturing plants to Pinellas from out of state.

While Congress debated the budget, Pinellas officials waited while the relocation of two businesses remained in limbo, Castoro said. The two companies hoping to secure tax-free bonds are likely to create 300 jobs, Castoro added.

The tax-free bond program "has been an important part of creating a balance between tourism, retirement and manufacturing," County Administrator Fred Marquis said.

"With the extreme cost of building new facilities, new plants, (the bonds) are a way to accomplish that," Marquis added.

Like Marquis, County Commission Chairman Charles Rainey, who also is chairman of the Industry Council, was relieved that lawmakers included the program in last weekend's budget compromise.

"We're very happy (the program) is still in effect," Rainey said. "It gives us something to offer small businessmen, and, more importantly, those business people who are already established in Pinellas County and can use the financing now in anticipation of good times."

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