JEDC to Examine Economic Incentives at Retreat Next Month
Mathis, Karen Brune, The Florida Times Union
Following another lone dissenting vote yesterday against an economic incentive, members of the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission are preparing to debate the economic perks at their upcoming strategic planning retreat.
Commissioner Chipper Hall, a manufacturer, cast the sole vote against a proposed Enterprise Zone tax exemption for Florida Coca-Cola Bottling Co., saying, among other things, that parent company Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. is not in need of such help.
"I don't think the $54,000 will mean a whole hill of beans to this company," said Hall, president of Rex Packaging Co.
The proposed assistance awards the Westside bottling company a five-year exemption totaling $164,466 for its completed $5.2 million expansion. It added a bottling line last year to handle Dasani water, creating 18 jobs paying an annual average $23,000.
The first-year exemption is worth $54,822.
The 5-1 vote sends the proposal on to the City Council. (The commission still lacks a seventh member in the wake of the resignation of Tony Nelson.)
Hall, and other members, made several points that commission Chairman Leerie Jenkins considers fodder for an updated strategic plan for the 4-year-old commission. Mayor John Delaney created the group in 1996, and the Florida Legislature formalized it in 1997.
Pertaining to Florida Coca-Cola Bottling, Hall noted that while it qualified for the tax exemption based on commission and city guidelines, "it's hard to give money to a company that size. It just doesn't seem right to me."
He also pointed out that the tax exemption was being issued "after the fact" rather than being used as an incentive for the company to make the investment.
(And in another note, City Council member Reggie Fullwood, whose district includes the Coca-Cola plant, disputed the commission's project report stating he had been briefed about the project. "I wasn't briefed," he said, noting that he would like to have been briefed. Fullwood, the council liaison to the commission, also questioned the summary's assertion that the project created 18 jobs for West Jacksonville residents and asked whether it had been verified that Westside residents took those jobs. He was told it had not been verified.)
Commissioner Jim Citrano, a real estate broker and also chairman of the Downtown Development Authority, called the discourse "an excellent discussion."
"This is the sort of thing we should talk about in December," he said.
And as the meeting wrapped up, commissioner Carol Thompson, executive vice president of Baptist Health and incoming chair of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, also voiced support for further debate.
Thompson noted that the commissioners have been voting to support incentive proposals that meet the rules, but "that doesn't mean we are comfortable about what the guidelines are. …