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By LOU ELLIOTT JONES
Levy County voters will have the opportunity to decide whether to offer tax relief to businesses that move or open up in the county in return for creating jobs when they go to the polls on Nov. 4.
County Commission Chair Ryan Bell of Chiefland (R-District 1), who is on the county economic development strike force, has been talking about how the county can use the incentive of property tax relief to lure new business and jobs. On Tuesday, the commission voted unanimously to put a referendum on incentives on the general election ballot for voters to decide.
“The reason for this is to give us some incentive packages, incentives for growth,” Bell said.
The idea is not new according to Carol McQueen, a member of the Nature Coast Economic Development Council. She said such incentives were offered at one time to bring in manufacturing jobs and the City of Williston opted into offering them. She said that's how the city attracted Monterey Boats and A&N Corporation to locate in that city's industrial park. Both are still in operation, having weathered the recent recession.
Bell explained that the property tax relief being proposed would give companies a discount on their tax bill in proportion to the number of jobs created for a 10-year-period. He said the discount would have to be applied for annually and verified.
“It's based on the number of jobs — the number of permanent jobs,” Bell said. “And it can go up to 100 percent.”
Bell said if the property leaves or goes out of business it does not relieve the property owner of having to pay the full bill. “The burden becomes the property owners to pay at that rate.”
As it now stands the only incentive the county has to offer are those of the Levy County Enterprise Zone Development Authority and McQueen said those are in danger after the state Legislature failed to fund the agency beyond 2015. If a business locates in one of the county's three enterprise zones it can get sales tax rebates for business equipment and materials purchases, property tax credits and jobs tax credits against their business sales tax and corporate income tax. The three zones are in Chiefland, Bronson and Williston. Commissioner Danny Stevens of Williston (R-District 5) said he would like to see them changed. “The dynamics county has changed since 2005-06,” Stavens said, referring to when the zones were established. “Is there any way we can reshuffle it”?
McQueen, who has also been a member of the EZDA governing board, said the law only requires there be no more than three non-contiguous zones.
Commissioner John Meeks of Bronson (R-District 1) said Citrus County, which has an enterprise zone near the border with Levy is considering expanding their zone into Levy and perhaps the county should work with its neighbor to the south to bring a zone into the Inglis-Yankeetown area.
County Attorney Ann Bast Brown said the ballot referendum's wording is dictated by state law. She will be preparing the item that will be placed on the ballot.
The motion to place the item on the ballot was made by CommissionerDanny Stevens of Williston (R-District 5) and seconded by Commissioner Chad “Cracker” Johnson of Chiefland (R-District 2).