CHIPLEY — Washington County Planning Commissioners were updated on the efforts to extend the Enterprise Zones in Ebro and Vernon during their November meeting on Tuesday.
“The Chamber has been meeting with the city councils in Ebro and Vernon discussing expanding their Enterprise Zones, and since part of this is also in the county, the county will have to approve it as well,” said Mike DeRuntz, senior planner for Washington County.
An Enterprise Zone is a state-created area for industrial or commercial development that offers incentives to businesses in order to create jobs. Those incentives include jobs creation tax credits, electrical energy tax credits, sales tax refunds for jobs creation and building materials, property tax credits for jobs creation and sales tax refunds for business equipment and machinery.
Last year the state Legislature passed a new law allowing counties to expand their Enterprise Zones, and Washington County will be allowed to expand its areas by three miles, which Washington County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ted Everett plans to divide between Ebro and Vernon.
The Vernon City Council approved changing the Enterprise Zone during their Sept. 23 meeting, and Everett is working with engineer Garrett Martin of Atkins, an engineering firm located in Chipley, to create maps of the two Enterprise Zones.
DeRuntz said he was concerned about including the east side of Highway 79 north of Vernon in the Enterprise Zone, since that area is a flood plain. Commissioner David Morris agreed.
“The highway expansion is taking away a lot of their town,” DeRuntz said. “This can be a chance for Vernon to redefine themselves and reshape that community.”
DeRuntz said the expansion of the zone down Moss Hill Road was a response to past proposals for development in that area.
“I think this could really help Vernon in the future,” DeRuntz said.
The commissioners also were given a copy of a Jackson County cell tower ordinance to study.
“Commissioner (Lynn) Gothard had brought this up as a concern with our last applicant for a telecommunications variance,” DeRuntz said, referring to a cash bond the county required of the developer as a guarantee against the tower being abandoned.
“This Jackson County ordinance is much more thorough than what we have,” DeRuntz said. “We might want to look at more of this.”
The Jackson County ordiance requires a $10,000 bond be put up prior to the issuance of any permit for a new cell tower as a hedge against “any and all losses, damages and claims arising out of the placement, maintaining, the removal or deconstruction of any tower found to have been abandoned.”
“I think this is what she was wanting us to have,” DeRuntz said of the Jackson County ordinance’s provision.
Commissioner James Ussery asked if there were any abandoned cell towers in Washington County. DeRuntz said there were not.