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Escambia County seeks renewal of economic development tax exemption

Courtesy photo
To date, Escambia County's largest EDATE was granted to Navy Federal Credit Union, in exchange for expansion of its Pensacola campus and creation of 5,000 jobs.

On the Nov. 8 General Election ballot, voters in Escambia County will decide whether to extend a 10-year property tax exemption aimed at recruitment of new businesses and expansion of existing ones.

The EDATE incentive program was first approved for use in Escambia County and the City of Pensacola in 1992 and last renewed in 2012.

“The EDATE is an Economic Development Ad Valorem Tax Exemption. It’s a tool in our tool kit that we can utilize to incentivize job creation,” said Jeff Bergosh, chairman of the Escambia County Commission.

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While the exemption does not apply to taxes that go to the Escambia County School District, EDATE allows for a 10-year period of no property taxes to the county, in exchange for some measurable outcomes such as job creation and capital investment.

“I believe it’s a great thing for our community, certainly a great thing for schools — and almost a necessity these days — as every community has to compete for these top-end flagship job creators,” declared Bergosh, recalling the lack of good job opportunities when he entered the workforce in the 1980s.

“I think folks realize that if we want good jobs, if you want to keep your kids, keep them with the ability to stay in Pensacola after they graduate, we got to continue diversifying the jobs base here.”

The Escambia County Commission voted unanimously in April to put the EDATE referendum on the ballot. Outgoing District 2 Commissioner Doug Underhill was supportive of letting the voters have their say, but he spoke against it.

“The reality of the EDATEs are that they are dialed into the power class, and that as a Republican you should recognize as a problem. It creates a situation where government gets to choose the winners and losers,” Underhill said.

“When you asked whose lives have been improved by an EDATE, if we didn’t have an EDATE, we wouldn’t have Navy Federal Credit Union,” responded Bergosh. “They put $1.2 Billion in the ground in my district, 10,000 employees to work in this community, buying houses, spending money. Without that EDATE, they (Navy Federal) stay in Virginia.”

Data presented to the board earlier this year showed Navy Federal received $2.9 million in property tax breaks over the three-year period between 2019 and 2021, while reporting $900 million in capital investments and 5,000 jobs created in that time. Navy Federal will continue under an EDATE ordinance until 2026.

Ascend Performance Materials is another company that has benefitted from an EDATE, which expires at the end of the year. In the same three-year period, Ascend received nearly $320,000 in property tax exemptions, while investing over $88 million in the community and creating 107 jobs.

“Every company is looked at based on the number of employees they’re going to hire, the average wage of their employees, and the new capital investment that they’re going to be bringing into the community,” said Scott Luth, CEO of Florida West Economic Development Alliance, noting that companies approved for an EDATE have to apply for the exemption every year to ensure accountability.

A couple weeks out from Election Day, there’s no apparent organized opposition to EDATE. But, the political action committee, Elevate Escambia, has been established to solicit voter support.

In asking voters to say, yes, Luth said having the 10-year property tax exemption available in Escambia County could be the deciding factor for companies looking to relocate.

“When we’re in that competitive nature at the very last minute, we want to be able to match incentives that other communities are offering," he said. "That’s why the EDATE program and having the ability for the county to offer the EDATE is so important.”

If extended by voters, the EDATE in Escambia would be reauthorized until 2032.

Florida’s EDATE incentive program is also being offered in the nearby counties of Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton and Bay. Additionally, such programs are available in the neighboring states of Alabama and Georgia.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.