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YES, WE NEED JOBS, BUT NOT AT ANY COST

If you ever drove through the Mill Creek Valley, north of Cincinnati, you may remember it as the stinkiest, grayest, most smog-shrouded stretch of Interstate 75 between here and Detroit.

But, boy, what public facilities!

Growing up there, I was privileged to attend a high school with gleaming chemistry labs, a glass-enclosed natatorium, a college-worthy football field and an auditorium posh enough to host performances by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

Just about every nearby town, many of them smaller than Brooksville, built its own rec center, complete with a swimming pool.

Then there was the village of St. Bernard, Ohio, which pampered its residents like a miniature Scandinavian country - offering door-to-door bus service, for example, and trash haulers who fetched cans from homeowners' back yards - while maintaining a tiny property tax rate.

How? Industry, of course.

General Electric and Ford both operated plants and paid taxes in my school district. St. Bernard, meanwhile, grew fat on trans fats; it was home to an ancient, hulking Procter & Gamble factory famous as the birthplace of Crisco.

I thought about this when the Hernando County Commission passed an incentive program that pays clean or high-tech companies as much as $3,000 for every job created.

My first thought? Hey, industries are supposed to pay us. We're not supposed to pay them.

Yes, I know we urgently need to put people to work. Hernando's unemployment rate is the highest in the Tampa Bay area. Even in good times, our economy is dominated by low-wage service jobs.

And the flight of industry overseas (my home valley seems cleaner and poorer every time I visit) has made for fierce competition among local governments to attract enterprise.

Honestly, not knowing the hands of surrounding counties, I don't know if we are underplaying ours.

This plan seems awfully generous considering the county's success in drawing businesses to the Hernando County Airport Corporate Park.

Its selling points include access to rail, the Suncoast Parkway and, obviously, the airport, as well as county-owned lots that companies lease rather than purchase.

That reduces not only startup costs but also property tax bills. And one of the existing incentives allows some businesses to avoid paying impact fees altogether. Yep, you heard right: zero impact fees.

That's where this gets scary, because we need those funds to pay for roads, schools and law enforcement that will make the county a long-term draw for industry.

It's also scary because Florida has a horrible record of granting out-of-control tax breaks to businesses, losing more than $900-million in revenue in 2004-05 alone, according to a St. Petersburg Times investigation in 2005.

Not coincidentally, the state has billions of dollars worth of backlogged infrastructure projects. Locally, one of Hernando's main priorities is to widen County Line Road, which is expected to cost at least $100-million.

As a homeowner, I don't want or need anyone to take my garbage out for me.

But when it comes to paying for a project like County Line, I'd like as much help as possible.

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