Collier fees relief possible; company to stay - County commission waives impact fees; action will save jobs

Friday, March 14, 2003

Naples News

Collier County, Florida - A proposed plan to draw and keep more jobs in Collier County may have already saved nearly 60 jobs in Immokalee.

Earlier this week, Gregory Cardamone, a representative for Ag Warehouse and Packing in Immokalee, told county com missioners the company was considering moving out of Collier County because of its high impact fees on new development. Now, it appears the company will stay.

"I think we've got it all worked out," Cardamone said.

The company needs a new facility of 15,000 square feet to support its growing produce- packing business. The owners want to build it in Immokalee, but they have been considering putting it in Hendry County because they can't afford the $75,000 in impact fees Collier County would charge for the project. The fees would cost the company almost as much as costs for the steel and concrete for the new building.

Impact fees are one-time charges collected on new construction. While they are used to pay for such services as schools and roads in Collier County, Hendry County doesn't charge them.

At Tuesday's board meeting, Cardamone, the construction manager for Ag Warehouse and Packing's new building, told commissioners if they didn't waive the impact fees for the project the company would have no choice but to build it in Hendry County, and that if that happened the company may just relocate there.

While commissioners didn't approve his request, they encouraged him to voice his concerns at a workshop Wednesday where a new economic diversification plan was discussed that could minimize the effects of Collier County's recent hikes in impact fees. One proposal is to create a trust fund that would pay the impact fees for companies like Ag Warehouse and Packing that want to expand or relocate in Collier County.

The plan, which is expected to go to commissioners for a vote later this year, is a joint effort between county staff and leaders of the Economic Development Council of Collier County, whose mission is to create high-level, good paying jobs in the county.

To tap the impact fee trust fund, companies in Immokalee would have to create at least five new jobs and pay their employees at least half of Collier County's average wage of $30,401. Outside Immokalee, companies would have to create at least 10 new jobs and pay 15 percent more than the average wage in Collier County, or a little over $35,000 a year.

Cardamone was so encouraged after hearing about the proposed trust fund that he said he planned to tell the company's owners to move ahead with the design of its new building with expectations that it would be built at the Agri-Com Business Park in Immokalee, where the company is now headquartered. If all goes as planned, the company's expansion could be completed by December, creating about 20 jobs and bringing its workforce to nearly 60 employees.

Collier County Commissioner Jim Coletta, who represents Immokalee, said he's thrilled to see Cardamone change his tune.

"It's only 20 new jobs," he said. "But 20 jobs here or there start to add up."

He's also glad to see other commissioners supporting the creation of the impact fee trust fund. He said many companies have looked in Immokalee and decided not to locate there because they couldn't afford the impact fees for a new building.

Over the last few years, impact fees have been on the rise in Collier County. In October, commissioners voted to increase road impact fees by more than 100 percent.

"The problem is we've been scaring people away with our impact fees," Coletta said.

"We've got to find some sort of relief and I think we are headed in the right direction."

If commissioners agree to create the impact fee trust fund, the money would not be available until Oct. 1 when the county's new budget year begins. However, commissioners have talked about a grandfather clause that would allow qualifying businesses like Ag Warehouse and Packing to pay the fees now and get reimbursed later.

"For companies that are looking to expand now or are looking to move out of the county now because of impediments, such as impact fees, this incentive could be used as an inducement to keep them in the county," said Tammie Nemecek, executive director of the Economic Development Council.

Leaders with the Economic Development Council are recommending that the board budget $1 million next year for the trust fund to get it started. The idea is to replenish the fund with property taxes collected from the companies that use it.

Besides paying impact fees, the new fund could be used by companies to offset the cost of permitting and plan review fees, which could further encourage businesses to locate or expand in Collier County, Nemecek said.

There are other parts of the economic stimulus plan that could make a real difference in attracting new companies to Collier County. They include lessening property taxes and providing $3,000 to companies for every job they create.

"Everybody wants the technology-based companies and manufacturing companies the companies that pay the higher than average wages," Nemecek said. "Everything being equal, the last thing a company is going to look at are the incentives that are offered. That is where these programs will give us the ability to compete."


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