If you're thinking about opening a business and are weighing possible locations, you may want to wait until after Nov. 2 and see if voters in Polk County, Florida, pass a referendum that will give new and expanding businesses a break from property taxes for up to 10 years.
As noted in an article on theledger.com, Polk Commissioner Bob English, who owns Valiant Products Inc., a sheet-metal fabricating business, was instrumental in getting the measure added to the ballot. He led efforts to have an identical measure placed on the 2008 ballot, but it was defeated with 52 percent of the vote opposed.
Hoping to prevent the same outcome in this election, English created a political action committee called Citizens for Polk Jobs to promote the measure, which is grounded on state laws governing property tax exemptions for the purpose of economic development. The PAC-raised money has been used for billboards and other marketing efforts.
English said the tax measure would create jobs in a county with unemployment at 13.4 percent and will even the playing field as Polk vies with other Florida counties in attracting "blue-chip corporate headquarters, high-tech research parks, and high-wage manufacturing plants."
If voters approve the exemption, a county ordinance spelling out specifics will be drafted, and county commissioners will control which businesses are given the break and for how long.
Glenn Reynolds of Lake Alfred, a frequent critic of Polk's leadership who works for the World Parrot Trust as administrator of American operations, is quoted in theledger.com article as saying, "There's no detail, and that's the devil. I'm not anti-business, but to me this is leaving an open (door) for them to do whatever they want if it passes. That's like walking into a car dealership and signing the papers without knowing what the car is and what it's going to cost you."
But according to English, "Everything is done in the sunshine, it's done in public meetings."
Ten years ago, voters in Melbourne, Fla., approved an ad valorem tax exemption to stimulate economic growth. It's up for renewal in November.
Melbourne Mayor Harry Goode said in a recent article he co-authored for Florida Today that the exemption so far has been given to 16 companies for a combined $119 million in new capital investments.
Additionally, he said more than 2,300 jobs were created at an average annual salary of $47,000.
The Melbourne exemption is good for three to five years, not the 10 years being considered in Polk, though not every project would be granted the full 10, English said.
"It would have to be a real large investment, hiring hundreds of workers" to warrant a 10-year exemption, he said. "Mostly it's going to be three to five years."
Critics say the ballot measure is vague, and that business has a history of taking advantage of such deals, only to close shop and leave town when the tax exemption expires. They also say the vague ballot language requires voters to place too much trust in a handful of government leaders who come and go.
Valid arguments, but I have to think English truly wants to help his community grow. Why do I think this? His company, which manufactures trash, linen, debris, and residential chutes; chute-fed compactors; and recycling systems, has been in business more than 75 years. It’s not a startup or fly-by-night company.
The About Us section of its Web site says a lot about what's important to the company and its owner: "Our goal is customer satisfaction and in making it easy for [customers] to speak with one of our many sales and service technicians with questions or requests for pricing. [We pride] ourselves in speaking to all of our customers with no mechanical systems answering our phones. We want our customers to know that they can call anytime and speak to a person and not a machine. All of our products are manufactured in the United States, and we are proud to keep the American People working, and not outsourcing our work out of the country."
I’ll be checking back after Nov. 2 to see if this referendum passes, and if it does, watching to see how effective it is in bringing jobs to Polk County. We need good, practical models of job-creating measures that work.
Follow fabcomlady on Twitter.
Become a fan of The Fabricator® on Facebook.