Cape Coral voters will decide on possible tax breaks for businesses

Voters will decide Nov. 8 whether Cape Coral businesses that follow specific guidelines can be exempt from paying property taxes for up to 10 years.

During the upcoming general elections, the referendum “Exemption from ad valorem tax for economic development – Ordinance 31-22” will be voted on.

“We are looking at target industries. Currently, some of those industries that have been identified are manufacturing, light industrial, technology and corporate offices,” said Sharon Woodbury, economic and business development officer for the City of Cape Coral. “The city has put together a number of incentive programs and this will be one we can add to our toolbox.”

The city is looking to attract these businesses by giving them incentives to come to Cape Coral.

“It’s always good to let the voters decide through a referendum if that’s the mechanism that’s available,” said Cape Coral City Councilman Tom Hayden.

If a business qualifies for an exemption, Cape Coral will waive up to $2 million a year in property taxes.

For the referendum to pass, it must receive a majority vote, meaning more than 50 percent of voters must vote in favor. If approved, the measure will last for 10 years. Voters would have to renew the exemption, if the city wants, after 10 years.

“What the city is trying to do, every city is doing, so I don’t see anything wrong with it,” said Doug Raker, owner of Hogbody’s Bar and Grill in North Fort Myers.

Raker and his wife, Theresa, previously had a Hogbody location in Cape Coral, but it closed a decade ago. He does not believe his business will qualify for an exemption to reopen a business in Cape Coral.

According to the city’s website, to qualify for the exemption, these new businesses must create 10 or more full-time jobs and pay an average annual wage of at least 100 percent of the average annual wage in the private sector, or receive capital investment in excess of $10 million over a five-year period.

Investment research company YCharts publishes statistics on average hourly wages in the private sector. YCharts said that in July 2022, the average private sector wage was about $29 an hour in Florida. YCharts claims to have a client base of 5,000 investment advisors and asset managers.

For each year in which the exemption is granted, these businesses will be required to submit an annual renewal declaration and an annual report.

“I don’t think it’s going to hurt any of the small businesses that are out there that won’t be able to qualify for it because they won’t be able to pay [the minimum wage]Raker said. “There’s no possible way a person can make money from this, our margins are already as thin as they are in the restaurant business.”

Home and business owners in Cape Coral have mixed emotions about this incentive.

“It’s good in terms of attracting business to the area, but this area is growing very quickly anyway. And a lot of big companies are going in that direction in the first place,” said Nick Libretto, owner of ABC Pest Control in Cape Coral. “We’ve been here for 44 years. We’ve seen the Cape grow, we’ve seen the whole area grow, but Cape Coral has grown tremendously over the last 44 years.”

Small businesses worry about losing employees to newer, larger firms that would offer higher pay.
“It’s going to hurt small businesses in the long run,” Libretto said.

“Big businesses get a lot of tax breaks from the government as a whole, not just at the local level, they get it at the federal level as well,” Libretto added. “I pay 30 percent tax on the money we make, and we’re a small company. Bigger companies sometimes pay only 18 percent because they get a lot of tax breaks from the government because they attract so many people.

“If it’s such a big business, they should be able to pay taxes,” said Gail Boyle, manager of ABC Pest Control. “It doesn’t even seem fair, it’s just that if you’re giving some kind of initiative to small businesses, that would be one thing, but these big corporations probably have more than enough money.

Christine Harris of Cape Coral said she disagrees with that referendum. She said the passage would only make the rich richer.

Councilman Tom Hayden continues to argue for the yes votes.

“It just gives us another way to attract business to our community and improve our retail base, which is really important in a city that’s 92 percent residential,” Hayden said. “It’s important for us to plan for our future in a way that makes sense for our community, and commercial growth is part of that.”

This story was produced by Democracy Watch, a news service provided by journalism students at Gulf Coast University in Florida. The reporter can be reached at [email protected]

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