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County Economic Development Advisory Board Nixes Residential Housing Incentives, 'Again' 

Photo: Columbia County Observer

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Wednesday's Economic Development Advisory Board rejected, for the second time, a County staff recommended residential housing incentive policy. The two month process has taken 4 months and counting.


On October 3, 2019, the Economic Development Advisory Board met for a regularly scheduled meeting. Townhomes Developer Tim Williams made a presentation for a condo development and asked for tax incentives.

Columbia County does not have a housing incentive program.

Commissioner Murphy said he would fast track the project to the county manager.

See: Columbia County Econ Dev – Wanted – Public Tax Dollar Incentive for Private Condos, Part I and  Columbia Cnty Econ Dev Tim Murphy Style Taking Care of His Friends – Ignoring the Rules, Part II

On December 5, 2019, Developer Tim Williams presented his project to the Commission (County 5 or The 5). The presentation was 40 minutes.

Commissioner Nash said he was "intrigued with the project."

Commissioner Witt said, "I'm not opposed to the concept. Before we do this we need to put some parameters in place to be consistent."

Commissioner Williams said, "There has to be some guidelines. The dollar amount should be there."

Commissioner Williams asked if the Economic Development Advisory Board could develop the incentive guidelines.

County Attorney Joel Foreman
Attorney Joel Foreman      (file)

Attorney Foreman answered that it could. The incentive criteria were assigned to Economic Development Director Glen Hunter.

Commissioner Williams directed the County Attorney to work with Director Hunter and the EDAB telling Attorney Foreman, "You understood the wishes of the Board. What we want to get accomplished is setting the priorities."

Attorney Foreman responded, "Yes sir. I'd be happy to assist."

There was no motion by The 5 memorializing the charge to Director Hunter or Mr. Foreman. Attorney Foreman mentioned that he didn't think a motion was needed, telling Commissioner Williams, "I think consensus is fine. I understood the instructions."

The Dec. 5, 2019 County minutes, the official record of the County, state the following regarding the development of a residential housing incentive plan: "The Board requested Director Hunter develop a ranking criterion for workforce housing projects for future Board consideration."

The Economic Development Advisory Board: Considers

Economic Development Director Glen Hunter
Econ. Dev. Dir. Glen Hunter explains the request from the County 5.

On January 8, 2020, Director Hunter's policy came before the EDAB.

Director Hunter reminded the EDAB of Tim Williams of Townhomes appearance in November and that at that time the Board could not recommend incentives, as there was no County Policy for residential incentives.

Director Hunter said the County 5, "Asked the Economic Development Advisory Board if they would revisit this and they asked that we put together some criteria for an incentive."

Director Hunter explained that he had met with Mr. Williams (Townhomes). He said, "We spent a good part of the day reviewing his information; looking around the state; most things around the state are different... We took that information, sent it to you. We're here to ask you today if you want to pursue this."

The Information provided to the EDAB is supposed to be posted on the internet. It wasn't.

Board member and trucking magnate Terry Dicks said, "This is not industrial development... My concern is we're getting off mission."

Attorney Foreman opined, "This step of the process is to develop the scorecard... It's about management level employees having a place to locate... This gives people a middle ground."

Mr. Dicks asked, "If there is a demand for that, why isn't free enterprise doing that?"

EDAB member Stephen Douglas agreed with Mr. Dicks, "We're off mission. It's not a job creator. Good project. Wish it would come, but it can't be incentivized."

"Affordable Housing in Tampa"

Economic Development Advisory Board member Charlie Keith
Charlie Keith

EDAB member Charlie Keith said, "I've met with Tim several times and I don't agree with it... I don't get it. It was first presented as affordable housing. That's not affordable housing in Lake City. That's affordable housing in Tampa."

Mr. Keith continued, "The provided check list is directed at the project. It jumps off the page."

Director Hunter responded, "Let me make something clear. This is all that we have to go on because this is a very limited program. We put out what we could put out. We're asking for your questions and for your ideas to put together that check list that we can utilize, if that's the direction that you want to go."

Assistant County Manager David Kraus
David Kraus listens.

Assistant County Manager David Kraus added, "Ben [Ben Scott, County Manager] and I were looking at programs. Most of the workforce housing programs are geared towards affordable housing, entry level... That's a decision you can recommend to the board."

EDAB member Jeff Simmons said, "It seems extremely subjective."

Trying To Clear Up the Confusion

Economic Development Advisory Board member Stephen Douglas
Stephen Douglas

EDAB member Stephen Douglas sought clarity regarding the charge of the County 5.

County Attorney Foreman responded, "My understanding of the direction of the Board was, basically, if we're going to consider these projects, we're only going to consider them with a score card... Glen go do that."

Murphy:  Score card is necessary evil.

The topic of a score card never came up at the County 5.

Mr. Keith said, "We need to be careful on what we incentivize. It's got to have a major impact to the community. This doesn't. Just the fact that we even entertain a score sheet... who made this up? Who actually designed the check sheet?

Chamber of Commerce Director Teresa Pinto
Chamber Director Teresa Pinto.

Director Hunter responded, "I did. The reason we presented it here is for you to debate it."

Mr. Douglas said, "I want to make a motion to bring back to the Board [County 5] that we do not think that an incentive package is warranted for housing incentives at this time."

Teresa Pinto of the Chamber commented that the County needed a policy.

Mr. Dicks said, "Affordable housing is the County's issue."

After a few more brief comments the Economic Development Advisory Board action was memorialized in the EDAB January 8, 2020 minutes: "... recommend to the Board of County Commissioners that we not go forward with a residential incentive program at this time."

The motion carries unanimously.


County Commissioner Tim Murphy
County Commissioner and EDAB Chairman Tim Murphy before calling of the final vote on March 4.

On Wednesday, March 4, 2020, the EDAB, unexplainably, did a virtual carbon of its January 8 meeting, with the same result.

The word on the street is that County Management was not happy with the job of the EDAB, or the Economic Development Director, and directed a do-over of the Jan. 8, 2020 meeting. .

The County Manager does not have the authority to direct a do-over of the EDAB.

Columbia County, Florida: the legend continues.

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