Council to dig into incentives policy issues
Public officials often tout Jacksonville's quality of life as a reason businesses move to Jacksonville.
The beaches. Warm weather. A business-friendly environment.
Then, there's also the possibility of financial incentives officials offer for those businesses and for companies already here that want to expand. The deals have to be approved by City Council members, some of whom want to see more transparency.
A three-person City Council Finance group led by council member John Crescimbeni will review the incentives policy in the coming months. The goal, he says, is to make sure policy "is working the way we intended it to work" and possibly identify ways to improve, including better transparency.
He will be joined by Finance Chair Greg Anderson and council member Matt Schellenberg. The three will be assisted by members of the city Office of Economic Development and the JAX Chamber.
Crescimbeni said he wants an online system that tracks the deals through different stages — construction, openings, cancellations and more — that the public also can easily access and review in laymen's terms.
"I put a lot of time in reviewing this stuff and after I push the green button, I want to be in the loop of what's going on," he said.
He said there isn't enough follow-up from the Office of Economic Development on how deals are progressing and he wants to know even if a company decided against moving to Jacksonville or expanding.
Ted Carter, OED director, said the office is developing a page on the city's website that will display approved incentive packages and payments made in those initiatives. He said the page will be online before the end of the year.
He said the office responds to public records requests about the deals, but part of the reason for the new tracking website is to be more proactive.
Anderson also said he wants to see failures and successes.
"I want to see about certain companies we have gone after but didn't win," he said. "What are the lessons, what didn't we have, what could we have done better?"
The current system doesn't provide such data.
"We need to get feedback on why they didn't come … so we can do better at our jobs," said Schellenberg.
One of Anderson's goals is to ensure the focus of the policy is on job creation and the capital investment companies make, which increase value and create other jobs.
"That needs to be a driver," he said.
Schellenberg said he specifically will seek ways to reshape the policy so it can better attract manufacturing growth, which he says is "vital" in terms of creating jobs.
Approved just under a year ago, the city's fast-track policy of reviewing and approving incentive deals also will be reviewed by the group. The policy lets deals for less than $300,000 and not seeking waivers be approved by council in less than a week, while those more than $300,000 could be approved in several weeks. Before, such deals could take a month or longer.
That policy has been used for 13 deals to create 1,912 jobs and provided more than $11 million in city incentives. The incentives are paid after verification of the new jobs.
Crescimbeni and Anderson said the speedier review is working.
Crescimbeni said the quicker turnaround helps officials "keep a lid" on sensitive details that could impact employees.
All filed legislation remains public record, although information regarding economic development remains protected until it's filed.
Schellenberg said he couldn't say if the new process is working, but that he doesn't like it because the timing is too short for council review and approval. He suggested council members be told sooner about upcoming deals.
"If council people can't keep a secret, then we have a problem," he said.