Economic-development referendums in five Central Florida cities could best be described as "keeping-up-with-the-Joneses" measures.
All five questions on the Nov. 6 ballot would empower city commissions to offer property-tax breaks to build business. That authority is already available in more than two dozen other communities statewide, including Orange County, Maitland and Ocoee, where voters passed similar issues in January.
"Right now, without it, we're at a competitive disadvantage," Oviedo Mayor Dominic Persampiere noted when the City Council first considered whether to ask voters for the additional authority. "What's good for one is good for the other."
Voters in Oviedo, Casselberry, Longwood, Leesburg and Minneola will see the issue on their ballots. If passed, the measures would allow the cities to exempt new or expanding businesses from paying some or all of their property taxes for up to 10 years.
A business would have to meet employment levels and wage thresholds to earn the tax breaks, which would not relieve a company from paying school taxes.
"It's not giving away the store," Persampiere said. "It's giving a new or expanding business a little bit of a [tax] break up front. The community would make it up in the long run."
Orange County has not awarded any tax breaks since voters gave commissioners the power to do so, but some companies have applied and a few applications are under review to determine if they meet requirements, according to the county's economic-development office. Neither Ocoee nor Maitland has used the new power either.
Voter approval is the first step for the cities, which must then pass an ordinance spelling out the rules. Companies that want the tax abatement must meet state criteria and apply for it.
City commissioners would have discretion to deny the applications and determine, if an exemption is granted, how much to exempt from the tax roll and for how long.
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