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Economic Dev. Tax Incentives Columbia Cnty: The Sausage Chronicle Part II - "It's Past Tense"

Economic Dev. Dir Jesse Quillen told the Board he refused to back date documents.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Part I of the Columbia County Tax Abatement Sausage Chronicles concluded with the November 2010 remarks of the County Attorney and the County Manager stating that Nettles Sausage would not be eligible to apply for the Economic Development Tax Incentive Ordinance, which was about to be unanimously passed by the County Commission. In March of 2011, Commissioner Jody DuPree, the contractor in charge of all the new construction at Nettles Sausage had what appeared to be last word when he announced that, "They don't even want to apply" for a tax abatement.

Go to Part I of the Sausage Chronicle

Last Wednesday, November 7th, the Nettles Sausage Chronicle ramped back up, when after being dropped into the lap of the County's new Economic Development Director, Jesse Quillen, the Nettles tax abatement found itself front and center at the monthly meeting of the Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB).

On the docket for consideration were two requests for tax abatements from Billy Nettles, owner of Nettles Sausage. In support were two recently recreated and unsigned letters purporting to be requests for tax abatements, backdated to March 10, 2010; a letter from the County Manager saying he had a conflict of interest -- he is related by marriage to Billy Nettles (their wives are sisters); and from the Property Appraiser, Doyle Crews, a letter and two undated, recently recreated and completed tax exemption applications, in which Mr. Crews denied the Nettles Sausage requests for property tax exemptions.

All the information from 2010: minutes (except for a small snippet), audio, and original documents had disappeared and were not presented to Director Quillen or the EDAB.

Re-created letters: Dated before the construction

Economic Development Director Quillen explained the letters from Nettles Sausage were recreations from Mr. Nettles' computer, as no one could find the originals, which were made available by the Observer in part I. The date on the recreated letters is March 10, 2010, six months before the real letters showed up. They were dated before the construction began.

Mr. Quillen explained that he helped re-create the letters and that is why they weren't signed.

The Handoff: Attorney says it's past tense

Attorney Joel Foreman
EDAB Attorney, Joel Foreman, told the EDAB that the time to apply for the tax abatement was "past tense."

As the discussion got underway, EDAB Chairman and County Commissioner Ronald Williams handed the meeting over to Attorney Joel Foreman.

After a brief explanation of the material, Mr. Foreman told the Board, "The issue from my perspective, as the attorney, is the proposed improvements and expansions have already occurred. We're talking past tense. The nature of an incentive is it is an inducement to do something. Because of the dates of these submissions, it's my opinion that the way the incentives have been requested here, the way economic development funds have been requested here, is just not reachable."

Mr. Foreman continued, "It appears that there was an effort in 2010, prior to the existence of this board; prior to Jesse being on board; prior to my involvement with economic development to request this."

The application to the Property Appraiser was stamped received October 24, 2012.

Mr. Foreman asked about the application. "I'm uncertain -- Jesse -- you might be able to shed light on this. The date of this application. The date is not October 24, 2012. Correct?"

Director Quillen responded, "That's the date it was submitted." (A little later in the conversation, it was revealed that the applications to the Property Appraiser were also re-created, or created, and thus, the reason they were undated).

Mr. Foreman responded, "... It does appear to me that the applications date back to March of 2010."

Mr. Foreman reiterated, "I'm telling you, it's my opinion, that [FL Statute] 196.1995 is not authorized... I am also of the opinion that because the proposed expansion and improvements have already happened, it wouldn't be a conventional incentive within the meaning of [FL Statute] 125."

Mr. Foreman concluded by telling the Board that "from a legal standpoint" the applications were untimely.

The EDAB members weigh in

Marc Vann gave his version of the events of 2010 as City Manager Wendell Johnson looked on.

EDAB member Marc Vann was the first to weigh in. Mr. Vann told the Board that Mr. Nettles went to the former IDA Director, Jim Poole, in the proper time frame "in the beginning of the project out there" and that Director Poole told him that it didn't qualify.

The record neither confirms nor refutes Mr. Vann's characterization of these events.

Mr. Vann continued, "Jim [Poole] arbitrarily made a decision on his own without presentin to the board officially that he didn't qualify. He actually recommended and set Billy up with meeting with some people from USDA to see if they had grant money to do the project with, but it kind of got put in a box and set off to the side, without anything being publicly discussed... I do know that the application was turned in, in a timely manner, it was done under the process that was supposed to be."

Political Questions: What's that?

Mr. Foreman added, "If this is going to be considered at this juncture it has to be from the perspective of equitable consideration and fairness. They are political questions more than anything else...

Mr. Vann questioned, "You keep using the words political consideration?"

Mr. Foreman responded, "They're elected leaders and if they want to take a position, yes. There is a division, as most of us know, between what's provided and mandated by statute and what falls under those political questions."

The Re-creation: "I wasn't going to backdate them."

Director Quillen explained the re--creation, "I'm trying to think how I did get involved in it. Somebody asked me to meet with Billy and recover as much information from 2010 as I could. And that's where these letters originated from. He actually found those in his computer and gave those to me. The applications were actually re-created as if he were trying -- those aren’t the original applications."

Mr. Vann asked, "So that's why they don't have a date on them?

Director Quillen answered, "That's right. I wasn't going to backdate them."

Board member Jeff Simons of FPL said he agreed with Mr. Foreman and wondered if a tax abatement at this time would be considered a gift.

City Manager Wendell Johnson

Lake City, City Manager Wendell Johnson, who began his career in the public sector in economic development weighed in.

City Manager Johnson opined:

196 is obviously, as Joel said, is a but for situation, so that’s off the table. There is no question about that. 125, which is an abatement of a portion of taxes paid, is a possibility and subject to the discretion of the County Commission.

There is a term I've heard used called non pro tunc, which is now to then. There is evidence in the record that there was a good-faith effort on the part of Nettles Sausage to apply for an incentive, and it's not under 196, it's goin to be under 125. And the County Commission has sufficient documentation to show that... and at the time goin back to the minutes of the discussions, there’s evidence to show that the County Commission was considering the application and all you have to do is look at what their tax paying is today; what capital investments have been made; if they done the job they say they’re gonna do -- and if the County Commission chooses to make the decision based on that, to give them an abatement of some portion of their property taxes, I would have no problem with that... Two years ago the County economic development function was a little bit disoriented and I don't mean that in a negative sense.

Obviously, if they -- but for -- element of their expansion was an issue, they wouldn't have been able to do it.

I don't see anything in this package that shows me 2010, other than a letter that's unsigned and dated 2010. Apparently, Jesse you said and feel that there's adequate evidence that they did in good faith apply for an incentive package

(Director Quillen jumped in, "I didn't say that.")

in  2010. And it was not either through Jim Poole's decision that did not qualify... in my opinion it would qualify.

Pandora's Box?

Glen Owens (on right) said he thought it was too late for a tax exemption on the Nettles Sausage project. Local businessman Stephen Douglas listens.

Board member and local businessman Glenn Owens weighed in:  I don't think it's something that we should be addressing as a board. I think the County Commission's already looked at it. There is no economic development to be done now. It's already been done. I don't see how we can do anything with it at all... If we do that, do we go back with anybody that built something?

Mr. Simmons added, "You're opening up Pandora's box.

The Attorney: County not necessarily bound

Attorney Foreman, " There should be something somewhere, subsequent to these minutes, that might indicate whether or not there was any expectation created in Nettles by any of the County's action. And it doesn’t necessarily mean the County’s bound to it.

EDAB Chair, Ronald Williams weighed in:

Vann is right. Jim made a determination that this did not qualify for anything that the County has to offer.

At the time I think I might have made the motion. I don't know whether it picked up in here that you can apply later for a tax break on that portion of it. It needs to go back to the board of County Commissioners. The politics got into the whole deal of Nettles Sausage. Nobody got up and said, “Let’s do what’s right, and he was asked to reapply and apparently he’s re applied two years later.”

I think if you go back and check, Jody DuPree, who did the job, did not pull the permit on that job. I think somebody else [did].


These kind of shenanigans are nothing new for the infamous Columbia County.

Economic Development Director, Jesse Quillen was right on the mark, when later in the meeting he said, "The outside world is looking at Columbia County."

And thus ends this chapter of the Sausage Chronicle.

**Updated Nov 15, 2012, 10:31 am: links to re-created and created docs added

Correction: The County Manager's wife and Billy Nettle's wife are sisters.

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

Posted on Nov 17, citizen49a of Lake City wrote:

Boy was Mark Twain right when he said "Those that respect the law and love sausage should watch neither being made."


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