AutoZone project negotiated for 22 months, Marion County taxpayers will pay

Autozone. ocala autozone, ocala post, marion county, corruption,

Marion County — For more than 22 months, the Memphis-based auto parts giant, AutoZone, which is worth more than $20 billion, secretly negotiated with City of Ocala and Marion County leaders to build a 444,000-square-foot distribution center in Ocala.

Commissioner Stan McClain was the driving force behind the deal.

Officials said the company will invest $50 million into the community, but in actuality, the facility itself will cost $50 million, including machinery, to build.

The distribution center will be built on 60 acres, located at the commerce park off of I-75 and U.S. 27.

According to county documents, the City of Ocala and Marion County will each pay $144,000 to draw down funds from Florida’s Qualified Target Industry Refund Program. Marion County will pay the $288,000 up front and the city will pay $144,000 back to the county at a later time.

But the incentives do not end there.

Documents also show that AutoZone will receive $3.75 million from the city and county each over the next 30 years, or $125,000 a year. Plus, the city will pay $554,070 for application, impact, and permit fees.

The project also requires the city to offer AutoZone electricity at an undisclosed reduced rate for the first five years they are in business.

This is concerning to utilities customers who recently were notified of rate increases on their utilities bill.

Additionally, the state is contributing approximately $1.1 million to the project.

AutoZone will be required to create at least 192 jobs in the next few years, with a total of 240 jobs. Salaries will have an average of $38,000 per year.

The city will also be bidding on internet and phone services for the company.

With such a large dollar amount in incentives being handed out to AutoZone, a reasonable person could conclude that the city, county, and state stand to profit greatly from the project.

“I have no worries that the city will get a worthwhile return on its investment,” Ocala City Council President Jim Hilty said.

In an e-mail, Ocala Post asked Mayor Kent Guinn how much the city would profit from the deal. The e-mail was never answered.

Elaine DeIorio McClain, Public Information Officer for the Marion County Office of Public Information, said, “Our industrial development projects are appropriated within the General Fund account. The general fund is a combination of property taxes, state sales tax (not including the 1 cent surtax), fees, balances forward, etc.”

This project, known as “Project Horizon,” was not heavily discussed or advertised to the public. In fact, the first mention of this project in a public meeting was on June 22, 2015.

“On June 22, 2015, the Board approved “Project Horizon,” or AutoZone, as a qualified target industry (QTI) supported by Resolution 15-F-191 with an appropriation of up to $288,000 as the county’s local 20% participation in the QTI Tax Refund Program. The Board opened up public comment, but none was given,” McClain wrote in an e-mail to Ocala Post.

The project was not again mentioned to the public for more than a year.

On August 16, 2016, a second meeting was held and the project was approved. Because it was not heavily promoted or discussed, most citizens in Marion County had no idea that the AutoZone project was on the agenda, therefore no public comment was given and “Project Horizon” was approved.

County Commissioner Kathy Bryant, said, “Such activity (meaning offering incentives at the expense of taxpayers) is an accepted part of the economic development landscape these days. If we don’t do it, someone else will.”

Bryant publicly announced during the August 16 meeting that she does not take to kindly to being accused of breaking the law after two citizens accused the commission of being less than forthcoming on other issues. She stated that she doesn’t have to prove she has not broken any laws.

Marion County citizen Nancy Walsh-Ventre wrote, “If they were going to create so many jobs, why was everything kept purposely quiet?? Why does a $20 billion dollar company need a break on the electric bill? Why so many long term deals using taxpayer dollars without the taxpayer consent?”

Karla Georges wrote, “Public money should NEVER be spent on private businesses! Who profits? This is probably illegal, with kick backs [to] whoever let it happen.”

But not everyone thinks the AutoZone distribution center is a bad idea.

Mike Ponticelli Jr wrote, “It is about damn time that Marion County and the city of Ocala get their s**t together and [brought] in jobs, the baseball stadium would have been nice.”

Dan Neumann wrote, “Well as much as I hate all the subsidies we are giving these companies to build here and bring jobs, we need the jobs. It’s been no secret the problem is Marion County has always let the big money horse farms dictate who can come into this county and for that reason we had one of the highest unemployment rates around when the economy was in the tank. Now they are having to entice anyone they can to bring jobs here. They should have thought of that several years ago and they wouldn’t have to give out so many subsidies to entice them here now. Walmart wanted here, Bass Pro Shops wanted here, etc, etc. Just my O2.”

Allowing for public comment on such projects is required by law under Chapter 286 of the Florida Statutes, especially when it involves public money.

Technically, county commissioners followed the law and allowed for public comment. However, keeping a project secret for 22 months is a sure way to make sure residents did not show up for the meetings.

Kirk Allen and John Kraft — two military veterans who established a group called the Edgar County Watchdogs, say it is reasons like this that the two made history in 2014, when they had an entire county board arrested.

Entire county board arrested following citizens arrest by 2 military veterans

The two veterans have since had requests from citizens all over the U.S. asking them for help with their local governments.

What do you think, should the project have been more openly discussed to give taxpayers a fair chance to speak on the issue?

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  • tomfromocala

    How is McClain even allowed to negotiate deals? He can’t even take care of his own finances. He filed Bankruptcy and broke the law while doing it. This is very disturbing to say the least. My tax dollars should not be used for this distribution center regardless of jobs. I see no one offering to build my house of pay my electric. Very disturbing.

  • Rich Eubanks

    I hate it when public money goes to private business, especially such wealthy private business. But, like Kathy Bryant said, “If we don’t do it, someone else will”. And it does bring much needed jobs and, with job growth, property values increase.
    There should, however, have been much more public input. And this ‘Project Horizon’ sure sounds like they didn’t want the public to know at all. It should have been called, ‘Project AutoZone’. All of this secrecy smells of corruption.

    • Ms Betty

      much needed jobs????? just 192 positions, is that worth all the money they’re taking out of our pockets?? I don’t think so. Marion county citizens are getting screwed again with increased electric charges while this business worth over 20 BILLION gets a reduced rate for 5 years. This 20 BILLION dollar business is getting 3.75 MILLION from us, the taxpayers for those 192 jobs! Screw the taxpayers cause if you don’t someone else will, that’s the attitude.

  • What’s Your 20

    OP is on the right track, but this is only what the found below the surface. Keep digging, you will find more. Everyone on that board is a criminal POS. Expecially Zalak and McClain. Big time corruption, and at the expense of taxpayers, like always. By the way people, just because this is an “accepted practice” doesn’t make it right, that’s what they call government brainwashing.

  • A real American A Yankee.

    I think everyone involved with this fuck-up in Marion county should be hung by a rope till there inbred ass is dead, we don’t need cowards like this in charge of our money and taxes also on the dead list should very much be the sheriff’s department and the electric company, two faced cowards every one of them.

  • jsviper66

    I love how the county, city and state always allows the tax payers to be screwed over. We paid a higher price for our electric for years to pay for the costs to repair nuclear plant in crystal river, then they botched the repair job, they decided to close it and are now charging us an asset securitization charge, which is to pay for the costs for the closure of the crystal river nuclear plant. Now, the county, city and state are giving millions of tax dollar money to a billion dollar company, they give them a reduced rate on their electric, on top of giving them our tax dollars… why didn’t they put all that money towards education, fire fighters, police officers, etc??? The state won’t put any money into wild waters, something that provides a lot of teens summer jobs not to mention something for kids, teens & family to do in the summer but they can give 1.1 million to auto zone? Wild waters will be gone in a week, silver springs pretty much gone, we don’t even have county fairs anymore. There really isn’t anything to attract tourists here and not really much for teens to do here anymore either. It’s ridiculous, their priorities are screwed up. It’s like Welcome to Marion County, our crime rate is going up, our education system is going down and there isn’t much to do here anymore….. but hey at least we have a Auto Zone distribution center.

  • Ocala native

    My guess is 99% of the people that posted to this article did not grow up in Ocala when there were NO job prospects except building vans or mobile homes for the people that left comments on this article. Thank you Kathy for bringing in FedEx and AutoZone and please continue searching for other companies to bring the jobs in, maybe our kids will not have to leave Marion County to find a decent paying job anymore. BTW this is Mike lol.