One of Hernando County's tax incentive programs is on the verge of getting a facelift.
Enacted in late 2001, the enterprise zone program provides tax breaks for businesses located in a specially designated, low-income and blighted area. The program is intended to reinvigorate poverty-stricken areas by encouraging the private sector to invest in them.
In Hernando County, the area designated is most of south Brooksville. But, so far, only two businesses have drawn benefits from the state tax breaks that are available. And south Brooksville has yet to be reinvigorated.
Those in charge of managing the enterprise zone, including the county Office of Business Development and the Enterprise Zone Development Agency Board, concluded that the boundaries of the existing zone are too confined to do much good. The zone is 1.3 square miles and is one of the smaller zones in the state.
"We don't really have a whole lot of space, and it kind of limits those opportunities," said Mike McHugh, the county's director of business development. "Hopefully, someone will come and fill those empty buildings in and bring a lot of jobs with them."
McHugh has pushed an initiative to expand the enterprise zone so that more businesses could take advantage of the tax incentives.
The boundary amendment would expand the zone to two census blocks that have high poverty rates but also include more businesses that could potentially take advantage of the tax breaks.
The initiative spurred some controversy among some south Brooksville residents, including one on the Enterprise Zone Development Agency Board. They argue that the county used south Brooksville's demographics to qualify for the state program and is now expanding the program in ways that will benefit areas outside south Brooksville.
But the Enterprise Zone Development Agency approved the expansion plan in October with little discussion, and the county signed off on it in December with no discussion.
At this point, the initiative's progress depends on state government. Rep. David Russell will bring the request to expand the zone before the Florida Legislature this spring, he said.
Under the existing enterprise zone, 62 business parcels could be eligible for incentives. Under an expanded zone, 236 additional business parcels would become eligible - including the new Wal-Mart Supercenter, Publix and Winn-Dixie - if they hire new employees who live within the enterprise zone.
Poverty rates decide which areas can participate in the tax incentive program. One area up for expansion includes a census block west of the existing zone, extending north to Fort Dade Avenue, west to Ponce de Leon Boulevard and south to Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. About 36.5 percent of residents in that block fall below the federal poverty level, making it the second-poorest census block in the county.
In the other census block that would be part of the expansion - with borders of Mobley Road, W Jefferson Street, U.S. 41 and Wiscon Road - about 21.5 percent of residents have incomes below the federal poverty level.