With fiscal 2014 on the horizon, city commissioners gave a sympathetic hearing last Tuesday to a pair of recommendations from the city's volunteer Budget Advisory Committee.
The advisory committee's chairman, Marty Peters, told commissioners the city should support efforts to convince the Legislature to repeal a 2-year-old change in state tax law and, closer to home, streamline the city's permitting processes.
The City Commission should make it a "high priority" to convince Tallahassee to reverse the 2011 legislation that lets for-profit corporations set up nonprofit front groups, Peters said. This allows companies to avoid taxes, costing local governments hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue each year, critics say.
In response, City Manager Mark LeCouris said efforts to repeal the tax law provision are already gaining momentum in Tallahassee. LeCouris hopes legislation will be ready next month for commissioners to review and possibly support.
The Florida League of Cities, which represents more than 400 municipalities throughout the state, has already been lobbying and working toward repealing the law, LeCouris and other city officials noted.
The committee believes streamlining the city's permitting process would help lure more businesses and development to Tarpon Springs, Peters told commissioners.
"We don't want to harm the controls that we have to make sure things are done right," he said. "But we would like to see if there are any ways to streamline it."
The city's economic development manager, Karen Lemmons, said in an interview Monday that the permitting recommendation is something city officials should consider.
At the moment, Tarpon Springs is competing with a lot of other cities and counties trying to attract businesses and development, Lemmons said.
"The economy is still recovering — it's probably never going to be what it was — and it's a competitive field out there, especially in retail," she said. "The downturn has really hurt retail so they can be really picky now about their best sites."
As a result, "anything we can do to make our process more efficient for us and more efficient for being able to attract new business would be something positive that I would definitely want to look at," she said.
Lemmons, however, said she agreed with the advisory committee that the city should not make changes to its permitting rules that would unduly weaken its regulator hand.
"We have our standards, especially within the Smart Code, of how we want a development to look," she said. "We don't want to skirt anything, but at the same time there may be ways we can make things more efficient from our standpoint as well."
In general, commissioners agreed reviewing the permitting process is warranted.
"I've heard quite a few people talk about our permitting process, and I believe it can be made easier," Commissioner Susan Slattery said. "These next couple of years will be important to this community when it comes to economic development, so now's the time to review the process and see how we can streamline for people that want to come into the community."