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JOB-RECRUITMENT PLAN SELLS US SHORT ON WAGES

The Hernando County Commission hung an economic recruiting shingle this week that smacks of desperation and faulty generosity: "We'll take anything."

The business incentive pact approved unanimously by commissioners is an understandable attempt to jump-start a local economy too reliant on the home-building and service industries. The county exceeds the state average in unemployment, foreclosures, and increases in households receiving food stamps and students qualifying for free and reduced-priced lunches at school.

Expanding the circle of industries that can qualify for the incentives is fine, but lowering the salary requirements for newly created jobs is short-sighted.

In essence, it welcomes more of the same. Jobs paying modest wages mean workers will face problems qualifying for mortgages and paying for rising utilities while they are putting food on the table and gasoline in the car. It will continue a strain on the delivery of health care and social services.

The ordinance is based on the logic that it is cheaper to live and work in Hernando than to reside here and commute elsewhere. That is true. But consider the mathematics used to rationalize the decision. The county tabulated costs at $4 to $5 per work hour for a Spring Hill-to-Tampa commute. Does anybody really believe there is an abundance of Hernando residents paying up to $200 a week - that's $800 a month and more than $9,000 annually - to drive to Tampa for a 40-hour job with a take-home pay of less than $500 per week?

The previous ordinance didn't reward companies financially unless they created positions paying an average of 115 percent of the 2006 yearly rate of $27,605 in Hernando County. That means it took annual wages of close to $32,000 to qualify. It's a reasonable figure that still put Hernando at a competitive advantage. In Pasco, for instance, the economic incentives aren't available unless companies create jobs paying 125 percent of the average annual salary of $29,786, or yearly wages averaging $37,233.

In Hernando, the public will now reward the private sector at a rate of $2,000 per job for creating positions paying $10,000 less than the county next door. The benevolence is misplaced. Current Hernando taxpayers shouldn't be expected to subsidize up to 7 percent of the qualifying first-year wages in the private sector, in addition to offering the other generous tax and impact fee abatements to new industries.

Encouraging stagnant salaries isn't a prudent way to improve the quality of life in Hernando County.

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