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Reporting from Bar Harbor, Maine:
NAPLES — The Collier County Commission will be asked next week to curtail its Feb. 21 legal action for a judge to determine if the Jackson Laboratory project meets a public purpose threshold for bond financing.
Even if the board makes that move, it doesn’t mean two countersuits will be dropped.
One of the countersuits was filed by Naples-based Arthrex, a medical device manufacturing company, and the second was filed by three local residents. Both groups have objected to $130 million in local tax dollars being used, absent approval by voters, to attract Jackson to expand in Ave Maria.
“At the present time, we plan to proceed,” said Peter Gaddy, a Golden Gate Estates resident and one of the three residents who filed the counterclaim. “It only makes sense because Jackson Lab has indicated they will be back, so when they come knocking on the door again, we want to be prepared for them.”
Arthrex is considering how to respond if the county board goes along with County Attorney Jeff Klatzkow’s recommendation to withdraw the bond validation proceeding, said Carter Andersen, the company’s attorney in Tampa.
“Arthrex has not directed its counsel yet on how to respond,” Andersen said.
In October, the county commission decided to file court action for a judge to determine if the $130 million sought by Jackson from local taxpayers to build an institute for personalized medicine would constitute a valid public purpose for bond financing. A court hearing is required for a bond validation when government entities or authorities want to issue bonds.
The issue for the county is whether Jackson’s proposal to create 244 jobs over 10 years provides a greater good for the public in terms of economic development, or would Jackson reap the overriding benefit and therefore not be justified for bonding with local taxpayers paying the tab.
With the inauguration Tuesday of Gov. Rick Scott, officials with the Maine-based genetics research institute decided to withdraw their application submitted last summer to the state for $50-million in first-year funding that was approved last year. Jackson officials want to meet with Scott and his team for input and file a new application in about one month.
Klatzkow prepared a recommendation to commissioners for their board meeting Tuesday to voluntarily dismiss the bond validation action. Along with that, he recommends rescinding a resolution that authorized the $130-million bond issuance.
“The withdrawal of Jackson’s state application and announcement that it is aligning the project to meet Governor Scott’s goals, while working with (University of South Florida) to create a joint proposal, has rendered the county’s bond validation suit legally unsustainable,” Klatzkow said. “Simply put, there is no longer a sufficiently identifiable project to bond.”
With respect to the countersuits, Klatzkow said rescinding the resolution for the bond issuance would leave no present case or controversy for the court and would allow the court to dismiss the entire litigation.
Gaddy disagrees because the countersuit argues giving any money to a private company violates the state constitution unless there is a valid public purpose, even without the use of bond financing.
The county talked last summer about giving Jackson a short-term loan, adding a surcharge to Florida Power & Light customers in unincorporated Collier and other ideas to raise money to pay for the project, he said.
Connect with health-care reporter Liz Freeman at www.naplesnews.com/staff/liz_freeman