Brevard Clerk of the Court Scott Ellis Weighs in On Blue Origin $8 Million Economic Incentive
By Space Coast Daily // January 2, 2018
ELLIS: I expect the case will end up appealed to the Florida Supreme Court
EDITOR’S NOTE: Scott Ellis was first elected Brevard County Clerk of the Court in 2000 and voluntarily left office at the end of 2010. He was reelected in 2012 by a wide margin over Mitch Needelman.
In 1992, Ellis was elected to the Brevard County Commission. While on the County Commission he worked hard for less government by cutting back on expenditures, debt and bureaucratic red tape.
Ellis was born in Charleston, West Virginia and graduated from Eau Gallie High School in 1976. Following graduation, he enlisted in the United States Air Force, attaining the rank of Sergeant prior to honorable discharge in 1980.
He then graduated from the University of Central Florida in 1983 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science and earned a Master’s degree in Business Administration in 1985. Ellis went to work for RCA at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station as a software analyst on the Command Destruct Range Safety programs.
He has taken an active role in governmental affairs at all levels, writing and speaking on numerous subjects in Brevard County.
Q – SPACE COAST DAILY: What is your position on the Brevard County’s decision to borrow money to pay for an $8 million economic incentive to Blue Origin.
A – SCOTT ELLIS: Both Florida law and the Brevard Charter do not allow the County to bond for operating purposes. The $8 million is a grant expenditure and not a capital outlay. Brevard County has no property interest in the Blue Origin/Space Florida facility on federal property.
Q – SPACE COAST DAILY: This week, three of the five commissioners voted to ask a Circuit Court judge to rule that it is legal for the county to borrow money for the grant, which is part of a required process under the Florida Constitution. If the judge rules that it is legal, do you plan to take any action?
A – SCOTT ELLIS: We will be involved opposing the validation from the local Circuit Court case to as far as the case may go. I expect the case will end up appealed to the Florida Supreme Court no matter which side prevails at each level.
Q – SPACE COAST DAILY: As you view that it is illegal for the county to borrow money for this purpose, in what ways should the county provide economic incentives to such companies as Blue Origin to encourage them to move to Brevard versus other areas.
A – SCOTT ELLIS: Brevard County has authority to approve tax abatement economic incentives to companies. Although I disagree with cash incentives, the Board is legally entitled to offer cash incentives as well to companies. The County has no authority to issue debt for economic incentive, and for good reason.
Should a majority of Commissioners go “incentive wild” then in theory they could issue tens of millions of dollars of free money for private companies, leaving future Commissions devoid of capital with their revenue streams tied up in debt service. If the Commission seeks to hand over cash they need to have it in the bank.
Q – SPACE COAST DAILY: How do you see this issue playing out?
A – SCOTT ELLIS: The Board did approve paying the initial installment of $1.38 million within the 60 days of Blue Origin’s Certificate of Occupancy as outlined in the agreement. The funds are currently available in North Brevard Economic Development Zone’s account to make the initial installment payment.
I fully believe the Courts will back us up in reading both the Florida Statutes and the Brevard County Charter in forbidding the issuance of debt. The proper response would be an annual appropriation for Blue Origin from NBEDZ funds.
If the Board insisted on a lump sum payment said payment could be made by internally borrowing the $8 million from insurance fund reserves. As of November 2017, the health insurance fund carried $43 million of cash beyond what is needed for claims. (See graph below)
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