Governmental action from around the Gulf Coast.
Unemployment changes in effect
TALLAHASSEE — Several changes to Florida's unemployment compensation program took effect Aug. 1. The reforms are designed to reduce costs to the state, cut taxes on employers and increase employment. Changes taking effect include:
• Internet filing and certification of weeks - Initial and continued claims must be filed over the Internet. The change is expected to improve government efficiency and provide a projected $4.7 million savings annually. The Agency for Workforce Innovation's unemployment compensation hotline will answer questions about the filing process.
• Job search - Claimants are required to contact at least five potential employers per week and provide this information over the Internet during their bi-weekly certification for benefits. Claimants can also fill this requirement by meeting with a representative at a local One-Stop Career Center for reemployment services.
• Skills review - To receive benefits, claimants filing new claims must complete an initial skills review via the Internet. The results of the review will be used by career centers to assist claimants with job searches.
• Severance pay - If a claimant's severance pay per week is equal to or greater than the claimant's weekly benefit amount, the claimant is not entitled to benefits for that week. Severance pay does not impact the total amount of benefits that can be paid on the claim.
Former reporter challenges Judah
LEE COUNTY — Charlie Whitehead, a former reporter for the Naples Daily News, filed paperwork to run against Lee County District 3 County Commissioner Ray Judah in the 2012 election. Whitehead, 53, was a reporter for the newspaper until two years ago. He is a resident of Fort Myers Beach. Judah, a five-time chairman of the board of county commissioners, has served since 1988.
Gov. Scott picks Darling to head Economic Opportunity department
TALLAHASSEE — Doug Darling, a Marine Corps veteran with 15 years of state government experience now leads the new Department of Economic Opportunity. Gov. Rick Scott appointed Darling to head the agency, which combines the division of community planning from the former Department of Community Affairs with the Office of Tourism, Trade and Economic Development and the Agency for Workforce Innovation.
“As we work to make Florida the best place for businesses to grow, expand and create jobs, I am confident in Doug's ability to lead our efforts to streamline existing economic development functions into one agency,” says Scott in a press release. Scott also appointed Cynthia Lorenzo, who has served as interim director of AWI since January, as its permanent head.
Darling will also manage Florida's economic development programs including the quick-action closing fund and quality targeted industry incentive in coordination with Commerce Secretary Gary Swoope. Darling previously served with the Department of Financial Services, the Department of Education and, most recently, as chief of staff and inspector general for the Department of Environmental Protection.
Water district approves tentative tax rate
BROOKSVILLE — The Southwest Florida Water Management District Governing Board recently adopted its proposed fiscal year 2012 millage rate. According to a district press release, the proposed millage rate of 0.3928 mill takes into account the merger of the budgets of the district's eight basin boards into its governing board, and the $108 million cap on ad valorem property tax collections passed by the Florida Legislature. (See “Muddy Waters,” Business Review, May 13.) One mill equals $1 of tax for each $1,000 of taxable property value. The fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
The merger of the eight basin boards into the organization's governing board was implemented in May to increase efficiency of operations and reduce costs, and is projected to save $350,000 to $400,000 annually.
Gov. Rick Scott in June signed legislation that caps the taxes Florida's five water management districts can assess on residential and commercial properties. For the owner of a $150,000 home with a $50,000 homestead exemption, the district-wide tax would be $39.28 a year.
The district will hold two public hearings on its budget in September. The first takes place 5:01 p.m. Sept. 13 at the district's Tampa office. The governor's office and the Legislature will review and approve the budgets of all five water management districts before the second and final public hearing. The district's final hearing will be 5:01 p.m. Sept. 27 at the district's Brooksville headquarters.
Commissioners approve rezoning for Arthrex expansion
COLLIER COUNTY — In a unanimous vote, Collier County Commissioners approved zoning changes in Ave Maria to allow medical-device maker Arthrex to expand its operations in the county and add 150 jobs. The change requested by Barron Collier Cos. shifts 50 acres of commercial zoning designated along Camp Keais to a site along Oil Well Road and moves a road access. In June, the county granted Arthrex $2.2 million in economic incentives for its $50 million expansion plans despite opposition from Commissioner Georgia Hiller.