NORTH PORT — North Port will ask its voters for help in building its business base.
City commissioners on Monday decided to grant select businesses a tax break, if the existing firm was expanding or as an incentive to companies looking for a new home.
Ordinance 2020-25 would grant such exemptions, with pages of limits and restrictions to overcome before approval. Commissioners voted on a first reading of the ordinance. A second and final reading is in July.
Ultimately, locals would decide on a referendum vote in November.
Applicants seeking the exemptions would get a hard case-by-case screening, to avoid the guidelines from getting “very easily twisted,” Mayor Debbie McDowell said of the process. She urged the city’s economic team to begin an “educational campaign” to help voters and applicants understand what exactly happens should the 10-year renewal be granted by voters in November.
It would not, she said, “be a free pass on everything.”
The measure on November’s ballot, which this year also includes the presidential race, commission and county races, among other challenges, will include a similar proposal by Sarasota County to exempt select businesses from some county property taxes.
Monday’s commission vote on 2020-25 was a first reading; the final reading is July 22, which is also a budget hearing. Public input is welcomed.
North Port’s effort is a renewal of a 10-year business tax exemption that expires in August. Though the city had not granted a single such exemption over the last decade, with Florida and North Port’s accelerating growth, the odds of a large corporation selecting the city — or an older one possibly expanding — will jump considerably, City Manager Pete Lear said.
“There are no guarantees” of granting tax incentives, Lear said, “but it’s great to have as an option,” adding that the CoolToday Park-Atlanta Braves venue, Wellen Park-West Villages and other newly developed areas will prompt a closer inspection of North Port as a homebase, he said.
An example for granting tax breaks in North Port was the Tervis Tumbler Co. Its execs this month announced the firm would downsize its North Venice office/manufacturing campus, but remain inside Sarasota County. A decision is weeks or months down the road.
Tervis, which reportedly has more than $100 million in annual sales — it does not disclose those numbers — would explore its options, its president said.
That was enough to send North Port’s business community into a tizzy. Tax exemptions for such a company would fit exactly what the city envisions for its future — good jobs with a ripple effect of others circling the prize.
“Another tool in the toolbox,” Vice Mayor Jill Luke said of the first reading to place 2020-25 on November’s ballot.
The exemptions won’t be applied automatically, commissioners said. North Port can “always not approve something,” Commissioner Chris Hanks said of those proving to be unqualified exemption applicants.