CRESTVIEW — Signs encouraging voters to “Vote yes for jobs” have joined those for political candidates along North Okaloosa roads.
The Economic Development Ad valorem Tax Exemption, known as EDATE, is up for renewal during the Aug. 26 primary election.
Okaloosa County voters first approved EDATE in 2003. It granted businesses $638,000 in county ad valorem tax exemptions before it expired in March.
In exchange, EDATE generated $34.5 million in business investment, including 402 jobs that pay, at minimum, 110 percent of the prevailing average local salary, according to Economic Development Council Director Nathan Sparks.
“Over the past 10 years, that tool has improved our competitive position,” Sparks said. “Businesses have a choice as to where they invest. They go to those counties that can partner with them in their economic growth.”
Crestview attorney Ashley Rogers, speaking Tuesday during the Crestview Area Chamber of Commerce's Government Issues Committee meeting, said the county does not lose existing tax revenue when businesses qualify for EDATE.
A TOOL OTHERS USE, TOO
Escambia, Santa Rosa and Walton counties, as well as neighboring Covington County, Ala., and other regional counties use similar incentives, Rogers said.
“If we don't vote and pass EDATE, we know we're giving up a tool that other people have,” she said. “It's like going into battle without your weapons.”
Competition to lure high-paying jobs isn’t just nearby, Sparks said during Monday's Crestview City Council meeting.
“We’re competing with other communities, other counties, other states and even other countries,” he said.
North Okaloosa businesses that have capitalized on EDATE savings are Advance Sawmill Machinery Equipment in Holt, and L3 Crestview Aerospace and North Okaloosa Medical Center in Crestview.
Bit-Wizards, a Fort Walton Beach IT company, also qualified for EDATE advantages.
The exemption is available for new businesses and existing businesses that want to expand. Businesses are strictly vetted using criteria such as stability, number of jobs, and salaries.
The exemption doesn't apply to taxes paid to the Okaloosa County School District or special assessments such as fire and water districts, and municipal taxes.