TARPON SPRINGS – City voters will say yes or no on a proposal to create a property tax break to spur business development.

The City Commission voted Dec. 4 to put the proposed tax break for new and expanding businesses up for a referendum vote during the municipal election in March.

The proposal, which was presented to commissioners by Economic Development Director Karen Lemmons in November, is part of a statewide economic development incentive program. It gives local governments the authority to grant ad valorem, or property, tax exemptions for qualifying new and expanding businesses that are creating new jobs in the city.

During the second reading of the item, Lemmons reiterated the parameters of the program, which would allow the City Commission to grant exemptions of up to 10 years and up to 100 percent of the assessed value of eligible improvements for qualifying businesses on a case by case basis.

“Having this program gives us the ability to attract new businesses in the city,” Lemmons said. The program is geared to attract manufacturing or Qualified Target Industries, including IT, aviation and aerospace, pharmaceutical-medical and financial and professional services, she noted.

“We’re always looking to diversify our tax base and get higher targeted employment to the area, especially in the North Anclote area, where many of these businesses would likely be located,” Lemmons said.

Lemmons added staff is hoping to keep the city competitive within the area after several Suncoast municipalities, including Tampa, St. Petersburg, Pinellas Park, Clearwater and Largo, have approved the exemption, while noting Oldsmar is also going through the referendum process.

“I think it’s great. I’m all for it,” Mayor Chris Alahouzos said when it was time for commission comments. “Our goal is to attract large businesses and to create jobs, and I think this incentive is going to help.”

Commissioner Jacob Karr said he approved of the program but questioned what would happen if the property that was granted the exemption was sold prior to the completion of the agreement.

“The exemption has to be approved every year,” Lemmons replied. “It’s essentially like a reapplication.

“So, if the business moves or goes away, they would not be eligible.”

When Commissioner Rea Sieber asked if staff had estimated the amount of general fund property tax revenue would be lost due to the exemption, Lemmons said it would vary from property to property. She added, however, “But like I said in November I don’t really look at is as losing anything, because you’re still getting your base (tax), and after a period of time you’ll get the overall improvement.”

With no public comments on the matter, the item authorizing the tax exemption referendum passed by a 5-0 vote.

If the proposal is approved by voters during the March 12 city election, Lemmons said, the commission would hold two public meetings to set the parameters of the program before eligible businesses could apply for the exemption.

In a later interview, Alahouzos spoke about the incentive plan.

“It’s always been our goal to attract large businesses to Tarpon Springs and to create new jobs and this incentive is only for jobs that create good wages,” he said. “Tarpon residents won’t have to drive to St. Pete and Clearwater to find these jobs, and the other businesses in the city will also benefit from the new jobs that are created.

“So, I see it as a win-win for everybody. Now it’s up to the people of Tarpon Springs to make the final decision with the referendum vote in March.”