THE ISSUE: County commission action on economic development incentive program.
OUR OPINION: Step in the right direction.
Citrus County has needed to focus and act on economic development for a long time. For years, multiple nudges and plans presented on platters didn’t move the needle. Now we’re finally seeing some progress, but it’s slow. At its most recent meeting, the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) took another halting step in the right direction.
In late 2018, after a series of community and consultant meetings, the BOCC had adopted the economic development business plan, and it asked economic development director Bruce Register to present a proposal for a new economic development incentive program.
Commissioners wanted to review options for targeted economic incentives to encourage growth. They wanted to see plans that met these county needs: they should align with adopted strategic objectives and public policy, be equitable, be financially feasible, be performance-based and be based on a strong business case with adequate return on investment. Tall order.
Register recently filled that request by presenting a proposed incentive plan package that contained four incentive programs. He asked the BOCC to replace existing incentives and consolidate everything into an approved policy adopted by formal motion. The key here is that adopting the plan as a policy, versus as an ordinance, would provide flexibility to the process.
Adopting by ordinance is more cumbersome, as it requires multiple readings and public hearings for enactment. The same process is required to amend any part of it or cancel it. Adopting by policy would allow enactment by majority vote, which could also be used for amendment or cancellation — a much more agile process. The county attorney advised that the incentive program should be adopted by ordinance.
During discussion, although concern was expressed about transparency and equitable application of program incentives, there was a general understanding that the BOCC would retain ultimate control as actual agreements would come to it for ratification.
In the end, the commission voted 5-0 to have staff create a short, generic ordinance that described the program in a broad-brush fashion. The plan is to implement it through policy by board resolution.
It’s not ideal, perhaps, from the business community’s point of view, because it slows the process. But it does avoid hamstringing the economic development team with ordinance requirements, while providing flexibility to meet changing conditions and quick-response opportunities.