SEBASTIAN — Sebastian residents will get a chance to tell its city leaders whether or not they want new and expanding businesses to get a tax break. The Sebastian City Council approved the wording for the question at its meeting this week. Voters taking part in the municipal election Nov. 3 will get to vote yes or no to the question.
Councilmembers agreed to the proposed ballot entry with one amendment to the question specifying the City of Sebastian will be authorized to grant property tax exemptions “to new businesses that create jobs and expansion of existing businesses that create jobs.”
Councilmember Andrea Coy stressed the importance of making sure the ballot question was “well written and clear” to avoid confusing the issue to the public.
“The public must consider how important this is,” she said.
Coy noted that Indian River County has not yet adopted a similar resolution, and that the question would have great economic development implications for the Sebastian Airport and other business areas.
City Attorney Robert Ginsburg advised that the wording of the original proposed question was based on State law because using statutory language was the best way to avoid problems.
“Anytime you change exact wording, you risk a challenge,” he said.
“The change is minor,” Councilman Jim Hill said, adding that in the original proposed question it was “unclear as to who will gain exemptions.”
Hill also said that the whole idea behind an economic development package is the “clear creation of jobs prior to delivery of an abatement.”
Mayor Richard Gilmor concurred with Hill expressing that it is important to adequately inform the public that the whole intent of tax abatement is job creation and bringing jobs into the area.
Attorney Ginsburg further advised that it is not permitted to advise the public to approve the question, and the Council must be careful that what it puts out is factual.
“We want fair government,” said Councilwoman Dale Simchick, adding that there was no intent to sway people. Simchick asked the attorney to clarify what was in jeopardy with the added verbage.
“If you add the language, the ordinance will not allow you to give abatement to a company that can’t show directly bringing new jobs,” Ginsburg said.
“I can’t imagine giving incentive to people who just want a bigger building,” said Councilwoman Andrea Coy. “It’s all about creation of jobs. We have an economic development plan in place. This is just another step for fulfilling that plan that Council put in place.”