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Councilors to extend technology zone tax credit, look for ways to expand program

Charlottesville City Council on Monday agreed to renew and possibly expand an expiring tax incentive for small-city tech companies.

Councilors discussed giving companies within certain geographical areas — which is currently administered as a city-wide “tech zone” — a larger credit than is available in the rest of the city.

Mayor Mike Signer said he wants the credit to be more widely advertised, be more “nimble” and make more of an impact on local businesses. In addition to certain areas being worth a larger credit, Signer suggested adding a credit for business personal property taxes.

“Indoor Biotechnology, for example, invested a lot in equipment, and they get a huge tax bill on that equipment,” he said. “Could we add an incentive on business personal property tax?”

Councilors directed staff to bring a resolution before them in November to simply renew the credit and extend it from a five-year term to seven years. The credit, which was first made available in 2001, expires Dec. 31.

The decision to renew first and expand later came after Commissioner of the Revenue Todd Divers warned the council that prolonged discussions could hinder companies expecting to take advantage of it in time for March 2017 business, professional and occupational license renewals.

“I would hate to see the current program held up under a make-it-better plan, and we are under a bit of a time crunch,” Divers said. “From a logistical standpoint, with the printers and the mailers, we need to start working, like, now … We really need to have the paperwork in the mail to businesses to renew by at least mid-December.”

Kathy Galvin said she would like to see the city add an incentive for businesses to hire workers from Piedmont Virginia Community College and the Charlottesville-Albemarle Technical Education Center.

“We do have this thriving economic sector that is indicative of growing prosperity in the city of Charlottesville,” she said. “Any opportunity we can find to leak that benefit to the local residents is something I am going to be looking for.”

As it stands, tech companies less than five years old are eligible for a 50 percent or 100 percent credit on their annual business, professional and occupational license tax. Participating businesses with less than $50,000 in annual receipts pay no BPOL tax, while those over $50,000 get a 50 percent credit, Divers said.

Businesses may apply and be accepted for the credit any time in their initial five years, Divers said.

Kristin Szakos said she agreed with adding on a local workforce incentive but was less enthusiastic about lengthening the term of the credit.

“I am not too excited about the idea of extending the term — if people can redshirt, then we can accept that some will take it or won’t — but I would be in favor of some sort of add-on,” she said.

Signer said last month that he would like Charlottesville to take some lessons from a similar technology zone credit that the city of Fredericksburg approved in 2010. Under that plan, existing tech businesses must either create at least five new jobs or attract $125,000 or more in capital investment. New businesses must bring at least 10 jobs or $250,000 or more in capital investment.

Fredericksburg businesses that qualify sign a three- to five-year agreement with the city and must submit performance data annually.

Charlottesville’s credit last year served 47 businesses and was worth an average of $2,200 per business, Divers said last month. City documents presented Monday night showed that the credit was worth an average of just over $1,100 per business over its 15-year life and served an average of 78 businesses a year.

The Fredericksburg program served four businesses this year, officials there said.