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Cnty Chair Throws Econ Dev Advisory Bd Under Bus Part I of Economic Development the County 5 Way

The Columbia County 5 from left to right: Commissioners Ronald Williams;
Rusty DePratter; Bucky Nash; Everett Phillips; Scarlet Frisina

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Last night the County 5 kept sinking: County Commissioners couldn't be heard; unnecessary last minute items walked on to the evening's agenda; legal documents didn't get County Attorney's approval; and County 5 Chairman Sylvester "Bucky" Nash" threw the Economic Development Advisory Board under the bus with his 12th hr. change of heart in favor of one of the nation's largest private corporations, Love's.

Background:  Ellisville

The idea of a new truck stop in Ellisville began years ago, well before Columbia County economic development went sub rosa.

In March 2007, Pilot Travel Centers inquired about building a truck stop in Ellisville, however, there was no water, workable sewer service, or internet, and there were communications difficulties with the County. Pilot went away.

In August 2015, the County began negotiating with a mystery company to develop a travel center in Ellisville. That company was initially to bring 60 jobs to Columbia County. Once the County took the bait, that job count was reduced to 32.

Incentives from the Feds, State, and Columbia County tax payers total 41% of Pilot's cost.

By October 2015, the Pilot deal was really in the works at Ellisville. That deal included a couple of grants from the feds, a grant from the FL legislature, and a couple more grants from the County tax payers. Around $2 mil of grant funding was being allocated for sewer service.

Eventually, Pilot changed its mind and went away, again.

The New "Company" or Love's

Sometime in June 2016, Love's flew into town. District 3 Commissioner Everett Phillips was ecstatic. There is no indication in any record that he asked the residents in Ellisville if they wanted a truck stop in their neighborhood.

On June 9 the Company executed a confidentiality agreement, guaranteeing them 12 months of anonymity.

On June 29 the Company filled out an application and a request for an incentive. The planned location was the NW Corner of I-75 & Hwy 442/21.

They planned to hire 60 full time employees with an average hourly wage of $10-15 per hour.

The Company claimed it was anticipating a $9-$11 mil capital investment and in return they wanted an incentive of $125,000 in cash a year for ten years and a one-time cash payment of $75,000. All the incentive was to be paid by the County.

The project summary reiterated that "60 new direct full time jobs" would be created with an "average annual salary ... of $12 per hour, $24,960."

The County is not calling any part of the $125,000 cash payment to Loves a tax abatement and the project summary claims that the County will lose no revenue in taxes.

The real dollar amount in taxes has been estimated to be about $65k a year. It has not been explained to anyone where the County is going to get the rest of the incentive.

The Project Summary/Evaluation/Application (it has gone by different names over the course of time) was not complete; left out the anticipated project completion date; and was not executed by anyone from the County or the Company.

Jobs and Capital Investment

In the past month, Love's, the 22nd largest private corporation in America – owned by billionaires, has the County jumping through hoops regarding its capital investment and guaranteed job creation.

On August 3, the final numbers presented to the Economic Development Advisory Board were 35 new jobs, up from a reduction to 30 just a few weeks before. The average hourly wage went up from a reduced $10hr to $10.50hr.

The Company's capital investment fell from $12 mil to $10 mil and the project completion time went from 1 year to 2 years. ($1,325,000 Econ Dev Incentive On Tap At County 5 Tonight: Minimum Wage Unclear)

August 3, the EDAB

On August 3, EDAB members voiced displeasure at the tactics of the Company. The overriding complaint was that the Company decreased its capital investment by $2 mil; reduced its job creation, reduced the guaranteed average hourly pay, and increased the completion time by a year.

The EDAB complaint was the Company was giving up nothing in return for all the reductions from the original agreement.

After a discussion, the EDAB unanimously agreed not to reduce the incentive, but to change the agreement from a pro rata reduction of the yearly incentive to a forfeiture of the yearly incentive if the job creation numbers were not met.

County Attorney Joel Foreman repeated the amendment.

Scott Ward – what did he bring back to the County Manager?                  (file)

Assistant County Manager Scott Ward is the County "Staff" representative on the EDAB. He did not object.

The vote was unanimous. County Chairman/EDAB Chairman Nash voted last without a breath of hesitation.

At the conclusion of the EDAB meeting, the Economic Development Department modified the agreement to reflect the change and at 11:06 am, sent it to County Attorney Joel Foreman.

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