Buckhorn proposing tax breaks for Tampa businesses
TAMPA - New and existing businesses in Tampa would be eligible for property tax breaks under an economic recovery package proposed Friday by Mayor Bob Buckhorn. The proposed tax breaks, which go before the city council Thursday for discussion and a possible vote, were overwhelming approved by Tampa voters in the March 1 election. The program, if approved by the council, would allow qualifying new businesses to claim a 50 to 75 percent exemption on property taxes. Expanding businesses would be eligible for the property tax breaks based on improvements and increased tangible property. City officials said the exemptions would be allowed for five to 10 years, depending on the number and types of jobs created, average wages and location of the business.The exemptions would be capped at $2 million a year, or an estimated $350 million in assessed value, according to Mark Huey, the city's economic development manager. "We can do a lot of deals, and attract a lot of investment, with those incentives," he said. To qualify for the tax breaks, city officials said, a business must meet the definition of a "High Value Business" that has a significant economic impact or is a "Target Industry." Target industries would include high- and bio-tech research, information technology, financial services, cyber security and defense manufacturing, among others. Each agreement with a participating business would have to be approved by the council. On the campaign trail, Buckhorn talked about offering incentives to jump-start the city's stagnant economy, saying Tampa has a reputation as a difficult place to do business. In addition to tax incentives, Buckhorn also talked about freezing impact fees, reworking the permitting process and restructuring City Hall to focus on economic development. Hillsborough County voters approved a similar recovery plan in the Nov. 2 elections. City officials said the county's tax incentive program created an uneven playing field in which businesses in the city would be exempted from county taxes but not city taxes. They argue that could drive away potential investments from Tampa. Businesses relocating to the city would be able to apply for exemptions on county and city taxes. The exemptions wouldn't apply to school taxes or other taxing authorities. Huey said the city is talking with the county about possibly combining the application process for businesses that want to do get the tax breaks from both governments. "We don't want to create another layer of bureaucracy," he said. One possible downside to granting exemptions to businesses is that the cash-strapped Tampa government would have even less property tax money to keep the city running. Tampa City Council Chairman Charlie Miranda said that will be a consideration when the council takes up the issue at Thursday's meeting. He supports the incentives, but notes that the city faces a projected $20 million revenue shortfall in next fiscal year's budget. "The city needs that revenue to provide services that people depend on," he said. Huey said the program would add money to the tax rolls, not take it away, because new or expanding businesses would be boosting the city's commercial property values. "This isn't revenue we have now," he said. "It's revenue that we would be creating."
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