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Wednesday, Jun 20, 2018
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Commission urged to plan economic development

NEW PORT RICHEY — In January, Pasco County will start collecting sales tax money for its new economic development trust fund. Pasco EDC Director John Hagen told county commissioners Tuesday they need to start planning now on how to spend that $45 million windfall.

During a commission workshop, he urged them to consider borrowing against the money to finance projects such as an office park and a convention center.

“I think a key takeaway is we need the jobs now,” he said. “I think we need to make this happen in 2015 and 2016. I don’t think we need to borrow all the money, but we need to borrow for the big ticket items.”

Voters approved the renewal of Penny for Pasco sales tax in 2012 for the cycle that starts in 2015. For the first time, commissioners set aside 20 percent of the county’s portion for job creation.

“It’s not $45 million,” Hagen reminded the board. “It’s $4.5 million (a year) over 10 years, and that’s a big difference.”

For starters, combining $7.5 million with the county’s existing $2.5 million incentive fund would give the county $10 million to lure a major employer to the county. “If we have a $10 million incentive fund, that is a number that will capture people’s imagination,” Hagen said.

Another option would be to combine $6 million with revenue from the county’s tourism tax to finance a small convention center. “There’s a need for meeting space,” Hagen said. “Both for tourism and for civic meetings.”

He also spoke about the need for Class A office space. “We have a lot of Class C office space, but that doesn’t bring in the type of businesses we want to attract to be a premier county,” he said.

Luring industry is also a problem because the county has plenty of available land, but some of the best sites, even those at highway interchanges, lack the basic utilities needed for large users. Issuing short-term bonds, for about 80 percent of the trust fund revenue, would also give the county money needed to extend utilities to parcels, such as the southeast corner of the I-75 and State Road 52, that are primed for development.

“That way the next time Amazon comes around, we’d have a site that’s ready to go,” said Dewey Mitchell, chairman of the PEDC.

Craig Dunlap, the county’s financial adviser, said Pasco could either buy land and develop its own industrial park or partner with a land owner to pay for infrastructure improvements.

“In Alabama, every single county has an industrial park,” Commission Chairman Jack Mariano said. “I’d like to get more information on how they do it.”

Hagen said the Economic Development Council members spent a lot of time coming up with a framework and list of recommendations, but they never took a formal vote. “That argues for finding ways to bring those dollars forward.”

“We’re here as partners to try to get the dialogue going,” he said. “This is not a formal recommendation — just a starting place.”

Some of the other ideas are:

Allocate $6.25 million for a revolving fund to assemble properties on U.S. 19 for redevelopment.

Expand the PEDC small business incubator with a larger $7.5 million facility.

Allocate $2 million to the PEDC’s microloan program, allowing it to attract $20 million from private lenders.

Spend $3.725 on an “amped up” marketing and branding program, including international marketing.

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