Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

CITY INCENTIVES; Dropping the Ball

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

CITY INCENTIVES; Dropping the Ball

Article excerpt

There's plenty of soul-searching to go around on a dubious set of incentives for an auto paint and body shop on the Northside.

Mayor John Peyton vetoed $163,000 in loans and grants by the City Council to Driggers Auto Body Co. on North Pearl Street after discovering his administration had failed to do its homework in preparing the deal for approval. The business had 17 liens totaling $224,637 against it.

"Given the number and size of these liens, this company is not a good credit risk and the city should not go forward with this grant and loan," said Peyton, who is appropriately proposing changes to the incentives program.

Peyton's administration returned clean credit reports on the business and its owners and reported those to the City Council. But that research only scratched the surface. Public records are readily available - many of them on the Internet -that would have allowed a more thorough examination of the business's debts, tax and operations history.

For instance, Times-Union columnist Ron Littlepage used the Duval County property appraiser's Web site to discover delinquent taxes from six years that weren't paid until some years later.

The poor due diligence on the city administration's behalf raises concerns about the reviews of other businesses obtaining incentives over the years.

Then there's the faulty judgment of the City Council that led to the decision that Peyton vetoed.

At district City Council member Pat Lockett-Felder's urging, the council voted 12-2 to approve the $114,000 loan and a $48,900 grant from the city's Northside Economic Development Trust Fund to expand the body shop.

No one should fault Driggers Auto Body Inc. for trying to benefit from a city incentives program. Who doesn't want to improve their business and get a good deal, besides?

And city officials should do what they can to help businesses prosper and grow on the impoverished and disadvantaged Northside. …

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