(Click for large map of proposed site for Jackson Laboratory)
- Photo Galleries of Jackson Laboratory
- Videos about Jackson Laboratory
- Documents about Jackson Laboratory
- Special Section: Find documents, videos, photos and stories about Jackson Laboratory
Reporting from Bar Harbor, Maine:
COLLIER COUNTY — Opponents to local tax dollars being used to bring Jackson Laboratory to the community walked away angry after the Collier County Commission rejected a citizen request Tuesday for a mail-in ballot referendum so voters could have their say.
“Shame on you, shame on you,” an audience member fired back when the board failed to consider a referendum.
Commissioner Tom Henning had offered a motion for staff to prepare documents for a mail-in ballot referendum for the board to discuss at the next board meeting, but none of the other commissioners offered to second it for a full-board vote.
In the end, the outcome didn’t come as a surprise to Janet Vasey, the citizen who petitioned to speak to the commission about a referendum.
“I was really hoping I could get someone to agree to it,” she said. “Am I surprised? No.”
Naples resident Noreen Murphy, who attended county advisory meetings this past summer where the Jackson project and a consultants’ report for a larger biomedical cluster was evaluated, likewise said she knew ahead of time what was going to happen.
“It was quite clear Henning would be the only commissioner to support it,” Murphy said.
Henning also tried in late July, when the controversial project was before the board, to get a referendum question on the November ballot about a $130 million price tag for Jackson. That motion also failed to get support.
At issue is as much as $130 million in local dollars being used to match state money to help bring the Maine-based Jackson, a nonprofit genetics research institute to eastern Collier, to help foster economic diversity and job creation.
The Barron Collier Co. has agreed to donate 50 acres off Oil Well Road near Ave Maria for Jackson. Barron Collier also says it would earmark another 200 acres for the University of South Florida in Tampa, Edison State College and other entities that would build in a biomedical park.
“I am very disappointed that the commission didn’t put it to a voter referendum,” said Georgia Hiller, who won the Republican nomination for the District 2 commission seat to replace Commissioner Frank Halas. “If this is such a good project, the public would support it. What are they afraid of?”
Vasey wanted the mail-in ballot to go out to voters in December, taking into consideration that the county has to have a funding plan ready within 120 days after Jackson and the state of Florida have a contract. The state Legislature last spring agreed to provide $50 million this year for Jackson, and state lawmakers would have to approve a remaining $80 million in future years.
Vasey was told by the Supervisor of Elections Office that a mail-in ballot would cost $300,000. Vasey surprised the board when she said Arthrex would be willing to reimburse the county for the expense of the mail-in ballot.
John Schmieding, chief counsel for the medical device manufacturer in North Naples, later said Arthrex would be willing to consider a “substantial commitment” to the cost, and $300,000 probably would have been acceptable.
“That would not be out of the question,” Schmieding said.
Arthrex officials have been outspoken about county commissioners potentially using $130 million in taxpayer money to subsidize an out-of-town entity to come to Collier without looking in their own backyard to spur economic diversity.
Commissioner Fred Coyle, who has been the board’s lead on Jackson, earlier queried Vasey whether she had wanted a mail-in referendum to address Jackson specifically or a broader policy question of the county using local tax dollars for other biomedical research groups if such came forward.
“It is the amount of money, not who,” Vasey responded.
Henning suggested, before offering his motion that failed, that the ballot could refer to a biomedical park instead of Jackson specifically.
“The whole question is putting it on the ballot,” he said.
Connect with health-care reporter Liz Freeman at www.naplesnews.com/staff/liz_freeman