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State could give county $7.5M to lure businesses

It's not a done deal, but county officials call it a coup.

Published April 24, 2007


Losing out on a bunch of high-paying jobs last year could end up being worth millions to Pasco County.

Florida lawmakers hashing out the state's budget agreed Monday to give the county $7.5-million to lure companies with high-paying jobs.

Pasco officials sought the money after a research venture between drugmaker Merck and the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute picked Hillsborough County over Pasco as its home in December.

Following that decision, the county asked lawmakers for $10-million to lure new industry and promised to match it with $2.5-million in county dollars. The goal: To create a pool of money to entice and help pay for big companies to take root in Pasco, although no specific uses have been unveiled.

While senators initially agreed to $10-million, House lawmakers were less obliging and started at a $10,000 offer. Over the weekend, they compromised with Senate counterparts to give $7.5-million.

It's not a done deal, though. The full House and Senate must approve the spending as part of budget votes, which are expected next week.

Then the Pasco money must survive Gov. Charlie Crist's first use of his line-item budget veto powers.

But after being doubtful of even winning money this year - a handout for a single county provoked skepticism - Pasco officials called it a coup.

"There are no strings attached to it, there are no matching dollars tied to it, other than it has to be used for economic development," said state Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, chairman of a joint committee that hammered out differences between the House and Senate spending plan.

However, state Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said lawmakers do expect the county to put up money.

"We're hoping the county will put up money to match it. That's what was kind of expected," Weatherford said.

The commissioners have passed a resolution agreeing to match state money with the $2.5-million. Commissioner Ted Schrader said it still is "a good investment" to add the money. But he said Pasco should wait until the Legislature concludes its session in May to see how the overall budget pans out, especially any property tax changes that could limit Pasco's general spending.

Mary Jane Stanley, president of the Pasco Economic Development Council, said the incentive dollars would be used to attract jobs in research and development fields. The county already gives impact fee credits to lower companies' costs, but Stanley said Pasco has less money on hand than larger counties. Although a policy has not been written, Stanley said the money would not be handed out without a promise Pasco would see more property tax revenue or other benefits.

It is uncertain if having the money last fall would have helped Pasco win over Moffitt, which plans to create about 165 jobs with an average annual salary of $80,000.

Pasco offered $15-million in incentives for that project, plus land worth an undisclosed value. Hillsborough and Tampa provided nearly $29-million in incentives, plus land worth $1.2-million.

Besides, Moffitt and Tampa officials focused on keeping the project near the cancer center's home at the University of South Florida.

"Honestly, I think they had pretty much made up their minds to stay in Hillsborough County," Schrader said.

David DeCamp can be reached at 727 869-6232 or

[Last modified April 24, 2007, 07:35:03]

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