Friday, February 5, 2016

Smack in the Middle

     Right smack in the middle of Sunrise Ford’s property  is a culvert that drains polluted water from  the western part of the county into the Indian River Lagoon.   The culvert is part of the North St. Lucie River Water Control District that was established nearly a century ago to drain St. Lucie County’s swampland for farmers and future development.
     For years, I was repulsed knowing that the filthy dark brown water that flowed through a good sized canal adjoining Sunrise Ford would eventually empty into the beleaguered river. While environmentalists ---and most  Treasure Coast residents—rant about the billions of gallons of polluted water being diverted into the lagoon through Lake Okeechobee, we have our own homegrown pollution system that can be just as devastating to the  river.
     The North St. Lucie River Water Control system is a made up of 200 miles of canals that spread from western St. Lucie County and head south through Port St. Lucie. The polluted water dumps into the St. Lucie Estuary and then flows under the Roosevelt Bridge and into the lagoon.
     A similar system called Fort Pierce Farms Water Control District drains the agriculture lands and runoff from the northwest part of the county and dumps it into Taylor Creek which has a straight shot to the river.
Like the disgusting water that passes along Sunrise Ford, the water flowing through Taylor Creek leaves a large plume of pollution as it flows into the river and out the Fort Pierce Inlet.
So how much pollution monitoring is being conducted  in those water management districts? Not much as far as I can tell.
     Ultimately the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is supposed to enforce water quality regulations.  But Mark Perry, executive director of the Florida Oceanographic Society,  said enforcement has been lax since Rick Scott became governor.
“The whole department is on the loose side of what the administration wants,” he said.
 And some experts say the amount of polluted water in those two systems can cause just as much damage as the water coming from Lake Okeechobee.  During the “Lost Summer of 2013” when up to 3 billion gallons of Lake O water was pumped into the estuary a day, water managers said a similar amount of runoff was drained into the lagoon from St. Lucie County’s water control districts.
     Unfortunately, our state legislators while promising to earmark money towards restoration of the Florida Everglades , took a giant step backward when it came to cleaning up St Lucie County’s  canal systems  as well as the rest of  the state’s waterways.    The new water bill passed quickly and early in the Legislative session allows agriculture to “self monitor”  its anti-pollution policies.
     “It’s a travesty,”  said a researcher who keeps track of water quality along the Treasure Coast.
     Critics said say besides reducing enforcement powers by the DEP,  farmers could claim they are practicing “best management practices,” when in reality they are not.
     The DEP was hit hard when Scott took office and fired many of the long tenured scientists  as well as other  career staffers at the agency.  It was part of his policy to drastically scale down  government which has resulted in the loss of 27,300 government jobs since he took office while the state’s population has grown by 2 million. He also promised to curtail the power of regulators who could hinder jobs.
     “There’s been a major brain drain here over the past five years,” said one frustrated DEP employee.
     “I feel that everything we accomplished since I started working there is being undone,”  said a retired DEP manager. “And we were supposed to be the generation that would make a difference.”
     Another former state employee was even more  skeptical. “They should call the DEP “Don’t Expect Protection,” he said.    
     The water bill does  provide money for eight employees to be hired by the Florida Department of Agriculture and  Consumer Affairs to oversee agriculture’s self monitoring practices. But I doubt very seriously that we will be seeing any heavy fines or enforcement from those new hires.   According to the DEP, Florida has 54,836 miles of rivers and streams as well as 49,128 miles of canals and 2,390 square miles of lakes, reservoirs and ponds. That’s a lot of ground for eight employees to cover.  And since they will be under the tutelage of Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, a big promotor of the water bill, I would not expect them to be too aggressive with fines and cease and desist orders.
     By all accounts the two St, Lucie County water control districts have worked well over the past ninety plus years.   And Perry said that there are those in the agriculture who are compliant with pollution regulations using new and innovative techniques.
     The complex construction of canals and pumps has stopped flooding while aiding farmers with irrigation. But when the system was planned in the early 20th century, no one really worried about the long term effects the water districts would have on the once pristine Indian River.
     I would hope that the state and its water management agencies could come up with an equally ingenious solution to clean up our waterways—and enact those policies before the Indian River is officially declared dead.   
     But the outlook is not encouraging. Gov. Rick Scott’s tea party agenda appears to be going strong and many don’t expect any major changes in the state’s attitude toward agriculture and water policies. Word is that the state politician who has one of the best shots of being our next governor is none other than the controversial water bill’s biggest cheerleader---Adam Putnam.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

The Summer Shakedown

For me, the summer of 2015 will be known as the summer of the “shake downs.”   In my previous blog I wrote about the Fort Pierce City Commission forcing Sunrise Ford, along with several other businesses along U.S.1 south of Midway Road, to annex into the city.   The annexation process included threats of cutting off water and paying off one business owner $13,000 to sign the documents needed  to get all of the businesses south of her into the city.
    The morning after the final vote to approve the  annexation, I was served with a law suit alleging Sunrise Ford was not compliant with the American with Disabilities Act.   That act, passed in 1990, required businesses  to accommodate handicapped customers,  by providing easy access  in parking lots, stores, restrooms etc.    It is a law that I embrace and was surprised  Sunrise Ford was the defendant of such a law suit.
        But the process server told me that the plaintiff David Poschmann had been suing businesses up and down the Treasure Coast.   He and his attorney were quick to slap a federal suit on any business they felt was not 100 percent compliant.  There were no calls, letters, emails, or meetings to discuss what improvements needed to be made---just a federal lawsuit.
       A few weeks later   Poschmann’s attorney, Drew Levitt, arrived at the dealership with an “expert”  who would inspect Sunrise Ford and report any deficiencies.   He measured doorways, used a special gadget to determine the slope of the pavement at our entrances,  checked out the men’s restroom and took a lots of pictures of our handicapped parking, the ramps to doorways and door handles.
         We then had to hire our own expert to determine if Poschmann had a case.   The dealership was built in 1990 and fortunately we had no major issues being ADA compliant. We did agree  to provide a special walkway from the main dealership to the Buy Here Pay Here building next door.   The men’s room has to be reconfigured and handicapped parking had to be rearranged  because  the slope of the pavement was a few percentage points more than allowed.   The handicapped counter in the service drive was off by three inches and a few door handles had to be switched out.   Sunrise Ford had to pay our expert $5,907, who came up with those recommendations so we could avoid a trip to federal court. 
      But the case didn’t end there.   A settlement would also mean a payoff to Poschmann’s attorney.  Without that payoff, there would be depositions, court hearings and then a trial.   If the federal judge found Sunrise Ford still had one ADA deficiency, the dealership would be on the hook to pay Poschmann’s attorneys who I am certain would have figured out how to rack up hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees. And he was sure to let us know that is exactly what would happen if we didn’t settle quickly.
        After a day of wrangling, we agreed to pay  $17,390.   Poschmann’s law firm got $15,000 and the rest went to his expert.  Poschmann allegedly receives nothing for doing his “civic duty.”  But if we had gone to trial I definitely would have wanted to check his bank records.
         So this summer has turned out to be an expensive one.   Poschmann set me back $23,297, including the fee from Sunrise Ford’s expert.   No estimate yet on the making the agreed upon changes to the dealership.
The annexation into the city will mean  an additional $25,000 in property taxes.  And  what do I get for that money?   City commissioners promised extra police patrols.   But that was after they complained the police department was underpaid, understaffed and had a high turnover rate—one of the main reasons for the annexations and extra revenue.
         Sunrise Ford actually did need the police department this summer.   We had our first break-in ever.
One of the first officers on the scene had a recommendation on how we could prevent future break ins.
Just hire off duty cops to provide security, she said.  We didn’t bother to ask the going rate for off duty police protection.  I figured we already had enough shakedowns for one summer.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Losing Faith in the System

     So the state legislature went home without funding the purchase of Big Sugar property, the Fort Pierce city commission admitted it was only after the money when  it annexed Sunrise Ford and other businesses along U.S.1.  And State Sen. Joe Negron has vowed to bring back a bill that would limit the number of students who can get a four year degree at Indian River State College.
     Talk about losing faith in the system.

     The Republican-led legislature vehemently refused to set aside money to purchase the 46,000 acres of U.S. Sugar property that would have been used to  divert  polluted Lake Okeechobee water from the Indian River lagoon.  Although there was plenty of money from the recently passed Amendment  1 that was supposed to go to such purchases, state legislators refused to even  consider it. Apparently Negron had no clout with this issue---especially with Big Sugar spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on legislative campaigns.

     Speaking of payoffs, the Fort Pierce city manager and city attorney met with the owner of Badcock Furniture  when it looked like she could have held up the city’s plan to annex commercial businesses on U.S.1. south of Midway Road.  They offered her $13,000 to sign an annexation agreement. If the Badcock property could not be annexed,  the businesses south of Badcock, including Garber Buick, Sunrise Ford, Wallace Lincoln and Treasure Coast Kia could not be annexed. And commissioners had said they needed that “string of dealerships” as part of its plan to add $223,000 in tax revenue to the city coffers this year.

     The city commission also directed the Fort Pierce Utilities Authority to threaten to shut off water to businesses who refused to sign annexation agreements.   Although most businesses signed the agreements years ago to get city water, some businesses were overlooked and the city was desperate to those agreements signed.  The city had to get the annexation done by July 1, 2015 or else it could not collect the$223,000  for another year.
     The owner of Badcock, Debbie Rhodig, said she was upset about the strong arm tactics and initially refused to sign the agreement.   But after meeting with the city attorney and city manager,  she took the money and signed the paperwork.  Although city officials thought the deal stipulated she keep quiet about the payoff and not oppose the annexation, she spoke against it at the  June 1 city commission meeting.  She also told the “Hometown News” that she “felt dirty” when she left the city manager’s office with the money.

     Actually the entire process seemed dirty.  Hush money, threats of  cutting off water and an carefully orchestrated timeline to make the taxes retroactive certainly were not “business friendly. ‘

     The commission intentionally targeted commercial businesses and left residential areas alone.   Commissioner Eddie Becht said the city wanted “to bring in some value without increasing services.” Commissioner Reggie Sessions referred to  the additional tax money as “cha ching” and scolded us for questioning the legality of the annexations.

     Sunrise Ford and the other car dealers argued the annexation was discriminatory and unfair. Even though many of us signed the annexation agreements, we felt the city may have not complied with state statutes.   We were also perturbed the city refused our request to delay imposing the taxes until 2016 so we could have more time to budget for the significant tax hike.

     “I would much rather be welcomed into Fort Pierce with good wishes other  than being ushered in at the point of a bayonet” Sunrise Ford Vice President Mike Wetzel told commissioners, shortly before they voted in favor of annexation. 

     One of the few bright spots in government news was that Negron’s bill that would have limited the number of students who could receive a Bachelor’s degree at Indian River State College did not pass.  The bill would have only allowed five percent of the total enrollment of what was once a community college to apply for a bachelor’s degree program.  IRSC President Edwin Massey, along other community college presidents, fought the measure, saying it would hinder the advanced education of working adults and others who could not afford to attend a state university.

     IRSC now has approximately 4,000 students in baccalaureate programs, about 10 percent of the school’s enrollment.  Under Negron’s bill, half of those students would have had to pack up and go elsewhere.

     The bad news is that Negron, a Stuart Republican,  is determined  to bring the bill up again next year.   Why he wants to alienate Massey and a good number of his constituents who just want to better their lives is beyond me. Hope he does as well with this bill as he did with getting money for the U.S. Sugar property.

     As for the city of Fort Pierce, I hope it enjoys its extra “cha ching.”  But know that it comes at a price.  The city has lost the good will of the car dealers  south of Midway Road for quite awhile.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

WE love Fort Pierce

      As a former reporter who used to cover politics on the Treasure Coast, I try to keep up on what is happening in both the city of Fort Pierce and St. Lucie County. But somehow I overlooked Fort Pierce’s recent moves to annex major commercial corridors into the city.
      That is, until last week when Sunrise Ford received a letter saying the city plans to annex all the property along U.S. 1 between Midway and Ulrich roads. I headed right to City Hall and from the documents I received about the proposal, it was easy to figure out why Fort Piece wants to add those 112 acres. The taxable value of those parcels totals almost $34 million. The city will get an extra $223,371 next year in tax revenue if the annexation is approved. With the recent construction and improvements along the corridor, that figure is bound to go up significantly in subsequent years.
    Sunrise Ford went before the Fort Pierce Planning board Tuesday to voice our concern about the annexation.  We wanted to make sure it complied with state law and the city’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan.  We were particularly interested in determining whether or not we would be receiving a better level of services from the city for the hundreds of thousands of dollars we will have to pay in city taxes over the next decade.
      We were stunned when the board‘s chairman and assistant city attorney questioned Sunrise Ford’s allegiance to  Fort Pierce and its residents. Instead of addressing the services the city could provide to our dealership, as well as the other businesses along the corridor, those two city officials took umbrage that Sunrise Ford did not embrace the proposed annexation . They insinuated Sunrise Ford did not care about the city or its residents, which was just plain insulting.  
      Ever since Sunrise Ford was incorporated in downtown Fort Pierce in 1932, it has been one of Fort Pierce’s biggest boosters. Over the years it has sponsored  baseball teams, fishing and golf tournaments and many other city related events. Sunrise Ford was a major donor for the renovation of the Sunrise Theater, is an annual sponsor of the A.E. Backus Museum, consistently supports Main Street and was a main sponsor of  the Downtown Business Association’s monthly exhibits on Second Street.
     Sunrise Ford donated more than $100,000 to Learn To Read, a Fort Pierce based adult literacy program that has helped thousands of Fort Pierce residents. The dealership has generously subsidized the purchase of vehicles for the Restoration House, Mustard Seed and many other Fort Pierce churches and charities. We are business owners who actually live in the city.
      As a business, we have to weigh the economic benefits of paying substantially more in taxes for what appears to be no additional meaningful services. We did sign a contract with the city more than 10 years ago agreeing to annex should our property become contiguous with the city limits. But the city’s annexation strategy appears to be nothing more than a way to generate money for a financially strapped City Hall.
     The Planning Board recommended by a vote of 7-3 that the annexation be approved by the City Commission when it meets on June 1. We don’t know what the final outcome will be, but want to assure our fellow Fort Pierce residents that despite those remarks made at the Planning Board meeting, we will continue to support the city’s worthwhile endeavors.
      We would also suggest that the city look at other ways to put its house in financial order. During the boom years awhile back, the city had an opportunity to save some money for leaner times. Instead it went further into debt, buying property that it now finds difficult to unload.
    So now the city is banking on the businesses along South U.S.1 which provide hundreds of jobs for its residents, to help bail it out of the mess it is in. And then we had to listen to city officials criticize Sunrise Ford for questioning its motives? It’s enough to make me want to go back to reporting about the shenanigans in local government.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

What has Tallahassee been doing?

As the Florida Legislative session winds down and it appears there will be no vote on the U.S. Sugar land deal, one wonders what our legislative delegation was doing in Tallahassee the past two months. 
        The hope was that State Sen. Joe Negron could use his political clout to get the money to buy 46,000 acres of U.S. Sugar land  that would be used to divert polluted Lake Okeechobee  water south  instead of dumping it into the Indian River.
        Not only has Negron disappointed environmentalists statewide, and many of his own constituents, but during this session he also raised the ire of community college administrators.  The Stuart Republican sponsored a bill that would put a cap on their four-year bachelor programs.
        The Senate bill would limit the number of students enrolled in those programs to five percent of the community college’s total enrollment.    At Indian River State College that means half of those attending classes for a bachelor’s degree would have to be cut.
        The proposed bill took most community colleges administrator by surprise, including IRSC President Edwin Massey.
         “He (Massey) thought Joe Negron was his friend,” a community leader told me.   “He’s not happy at all about it at all.”   
     To add insult to injury, the initial proposal would have also forced IRSC and other community colleges with bachelor programs to be go back to being called community colleges, not state colleges.
       And what was the reason for this?
       Negron told the media that the bill was meant to limit the overlapping of the same programs in both four year universities and community colleges.
    Community colleges cried foul---saying that the four-year degrees reflected the needs of their regions.   At IRSC, there are nearly 4,000 students enrolled in Bachelor degree programs,  close to 10 percent of IRSC’s total student population.  Community college administrators said that more than half of those enrolled in their four-year programs statewide work at full time jobs.   
       Furthermore the state university’s enrollments increased 54 percent since community colleges began offering the four-year degrees, according to a statement from IRSC.  The community college degrees “serve an entirely different market of students who previously were not able to pursue a Bachelor’s degree,” the statement says.
        Along the Treasure Coast, that means students who couldn't afford to go away to college, could still get a Bachelor’s degree while living at home.  Older students working full time also were able to take advantage of the four year programs since IRSC was close to their jobs.
       A compromise on Negron’s bill was hammered out last week.  Just changing the signs, logos and documents of the 16 state colleges back to community colleges would have cost millions of dollars.  So thankfully, that part of the bill was dropped.
       The caps on enrollment were also tweaked.   Instead of the five percent  cap, community colleges which now have more than 10 percent of its student body enrolled in  bachelor’s programs can increase that enrollment by another five percent over three years.   Those colleges with under five percent can increase that enrollment by 7 percent over three years.
       So that watered down version of Negron’s bill probably meant were dozens of meetings, hundreds of phone calls and a lot of wrangling over a bill that many said was unnecessary.
        In the meantime, the one bill that Negron’s constituents wanted most has languished in the Senate and House. The high profile bill was pushed by both environmentalists statewide and Treasure Coast businesses that saw tourism dollars and real estate values decline because of the polluted river. There were rallies, editorials and letter writing campaigns.   For goodness sake, Jimmy Buffett even sang about it on the capitol steps. 
           But short of an 11th hour miracle, there will be no money to buy the land at a reasonable price that was negotiated seven years ago.  The deal goes off the table October 1 and U.S. Sugar will be able to jack the price as high as it wants.
            With the amount of money U.S. Sugar spent on legislators’ campaigns in recent years, I am not surprised to see the company got what it wanted.  This legislative session did give us one small consolation prize---at least IRSC’s baccalaureate programs will not be cut in half.   And Ed Massey won’t be forced to change out all of the signs on those college buildings.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Save Our Lagoon!

           I recently noticed the Fort Pierce News Tribune added a new meter to its editorial page. The Tribune, as well as other Treasure Coast Scripps newspapers, is counting down the days that the State Legislature has to purchase 46,800 acres of U.S. Sugar property at a price that was set in 2008. This is not the first time the News Tribune displayed a meter at the top of that page. For more than a year, it had the Pruitt meter, which counted down the number of days St. Lucie Property Appraiser Ken Pruitt refused to discuss whether he would  keep his lucrative lobbying business or give it up and be a full time county property appraiser.
          The new meter has a much shorter deadline. The state Legislature must decide this session whether to purchase the U.S. Sugar land that would be part of a plan to divert polluted Lake Okeechobee water from flowing into the Indian River Lagoon. After that, the agreed upon price for the land, negotiated by former Gov. Charlie Crist, is off the table.
           A yes vote from the legislature should be a no-brainer. Thanks to Amendment 1, which was  overwhelmingly  approved by voters in November, the state has more than enough money to buy the land for $346.3 million.  And one would think that our local state representatives and State Sen. Joe Negron would be leading the charge to get the deal done.   Not so.   Except for State Rep. Larry Lee, who is the lone Democrat  to represent us on the Treasure Coast, none have really pushed their  colleagues in Tallahassee to approve the purchase.
      Negron deferred talking up the plan until he saw the results of a University of Florida study about the proposal. The study was completed  this month, and to the surprise of no one, the report said buying the land is a viable way to help resolve the pollution problem. After all, the UF report comes after decades of studies and discussions involving the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the South Florida Water Management District, the Sierra Club, Everglades Foundation and anyone else who has a stake in the Indian River. More than a year ago, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson was railing about the pollution on the Senate floor, holding up a jar of the dingy brackish water he scooped up from the Indian River.
       So now we taxpayers are finally seeing a plan that could help save our lagoon and what do we hear from our local politicians?  Not a whole lot.
         After the UF report was released Negron told the News Tribune he is “seriously considering” the state purchase of U.S. Sugar property. And, he said he will use his “legislative energies” to get the deal done. Not quite the enthusiasm one would expect from a state senator who should know that saving the Indian River lagoon is probably his constituents’ number one priority. And he should have known that this will be an uphill battle that must be won by May 1. With a Republican controlled Legislature, many of whom have accepted tens of thousands of sugar money for their campaigns, there will be a lot of push back approving a deal that U.S. Sugar no longer wants.
        Indeed, House Speaker Steve  Crisafulli  (R-Merritt Island) opposes the deal because he said the state doesn't need any more land. The fact that he received  thousands in campaign donations from Big Sugar probably won’t help him change his mind any time soon.
        Gayle Harrell told Scripps newspapers she would support the purchase only if the land is deemed “appropriate.”  And Rep. Mary Lynn Magar, (R-Tequesta) said she is “looking into it.”   So much for the rallies, the fundraising, the editorials, extensive publicity and years of meetings to find ways to save the  lagoon.  Unless we see some major arm twisting and wheeling and dealing from our representatives,  U.S. Sugar will be able to back out of the deal that would have saved taxpayers millions.
        Our best hope is that Negron will use his clout---after all, he is a strong contender to be Senate President in 2016—to get his fellow Republicans in the Senate and House to vote for the purchase.  Although he negotiated millions for the lagoon in the past, his constituents will remember what happens this legislative session for a long time.  Gayle Harrell should also be wary.   The long-time representative has already drawn opposition for the 2016 race for District 83.Her Democratic opponent is Crystal M. Lucas, a biology teacher at Indian River Community College.  Lucas’s passion---the environment and saving the Indian River lagoon.
        The Tribune’s Pruitt meter didn't have much impact.   Pruitt still is our property appraiser and a lobbyist---ironically one of his clients is Big Sugar. Hopefully, the Tribune’s countdown on the purchase of U.S.  Sugar land will raise enough awareness to get the deal done.  But I am not counting on it.

        What I do hope is that if this deal fails, voters along the Treasure Coast will know who to hold accountable and do something about it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Boom on US 1

           While there has been much talk about the taxpayer subsidized Digital Domain building and Torrey Pines Research Center,  little has been said about the building boom along dealer row in St. Lucie County, which is expected to add jobs and significantly increase the property tax base----all without one cent of taxpayer money.
            Garber Buick GMC of Fort Pierce, which purchased the dealership  from the Dean family at 5255 South U.S.1, invested $5 million to bulldoze the existing buildings and to construct a new 25,000 square foot dealership along with a 3,000 square foot used car building.   Mike Weinert, general manager and managing partner of the dealership, said when the project is completed this summer, he expects to hire at least 10 more employees, expanding the staff to 40 plus workers.
         In addition, he hired a local contractor to build the facility and his goal is to use vendors from St. Lucie County.
              “We try to keep it local,” he said.
              The Garber Automotive Group, based in Michigan, did extensive research  before purchasing the property and decided it was worth the investment.
                  “There is a lot of growth on the Treasure Coast,”Weinert said.
             The Coggin group came to the same conclusion when it decided to build the new Acura store at 4400 South U.S.1.  The 30,000 square foot state- of –the-art facility, which opened last month, has a skylight that illuminates the entire showroom and uses i Pads and other high tech gadgets for selling and servicing vehicles.
A spokesman said the Coggin Group, owned by Asbury Holdings made a “substantial investment”  to build the Acura store, which will add about 20 employees, bringing the total employment count to 50.
                The location of the property was one of the main reasons the new facility was built.
 “It’s centrally located between Vero and Stuart,” he said.  “It’s a great opportunity.”
         Dyer Chevrolet, which recently took over Bill Shultz Chevrolet at 4200 South U.S.1, is also under construction,  investing $2. 5 million gutting and renovating that store.    “It was long overdue,” said Tatiana Dyer,who along with her husband, Will, also operates dealerships in Vero Beach.
              Besides the new fa├žade, they have installed new service department  lifts and other equipment, put on a new roof and added about 20 new employees.  The renovations should be completed in two months .
Sunrise Ford is opening its Truck World,  which will only sell used pickup trucks,  on its property at 5359 South U.S.1.    We plan on having the biggest inventory on the Treasure Coast.    At least five new employees will be on the Truck World payroll.   Like the other dealers, we felt it was the right time to expand our operation.
              The building boom along U.S.1, along with the additional jobs,  certainly should please county officials—especially since the county is collecting significant impact fees and higher property taxes from the dealerships.   That is in stark contrast to the debacles in Port St. Lucie, where taxpayers paid about $100 million to Torrey Pines Research Center which was supposed to generate 189 jobs.  It now hires about 100 people and was forced to take out a mortgage on its city-paid building because it does not have enough money for its operating expenses.
                  Port St. Lucie gave $40 million to Digital Domain for its building  and the company received another $30 million in state and city incentives.  As most now know, that apparently wasn't enough. The company went bust.Number of employees at present.Zero.
                 Sunrise Ford has about 80 employees and this year paid $89,638 in county property taxes.  It’s annual payroll is $4 million.Multiply those numbers by the 12 dealerships in the county and you get a good idea of what  they contribute to St. Lucie County.   There were some vacant dealerships during  the recession, but most of us just tightened our belts and held on as best we could until the economy rebounded.   We continued to pay our taxes, kept as many people on our payroll as possible, and still managed to give to local charities and community organizations.
 Unlike Torrey Pines, we could not go to the city and ask for a special deal that would allow us to mortgage a building we didn't pay for in the first place.   We also were not given $50 million of taxpayer incentives to help pay for our operating expenses during those tough times.

            You would think Port St. Lucie city and St. Lucie county officials would learn a lesson or two from the Torrey Pines and Digital Domain experiences.  But I am not so sure.   Last month the county offered $312,640 in property tax breaks to lure a bakery distributor to St. Lucie County.  The county also promised to waive $49,333 in impact fees and give the company a $51,750 “job growth” grant.  Number of jobs expected from those handouts—30.