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County Moves Forward Cautiously on Jackson Labs

Collier County Commissioners approved a tentative first step Tuesday to fund the county's $130-million contribution toward financing the Jackson Laboratory genetics research laboratory near Ave Maria. The commissioners' short-term plan does not raise taxes or increase fees at this time.

With the overall financial picture clouded by the uncertainty of whether the state of Florida can deliver its share of the funding, commissioners voted 4-1 to approve a resolution that lets the county staff use solutions such as loans from other county operations to provide interim funding should the state money be forthcoming. County Manager Leo Ochs called it a short-term solution that is only appropriate "because of the uncertainty of state funding." A plan would need to be in place for the 2012 fiscal year, he said.

The state budget contains $50 million this year as part of a $130-million commitment to the project, but the money was contingent on the U.S. Congress extending increased Medicaid reimbursements to the states. The House of Representatives voted against the extension, and efforts to revive it in the U.S. Senate have stalled. [UPDATE: The U.S. Senate passed a stimulus bill Aug. 5 that included the extension of increased Medicaid reimbursement rates, along with other money for states for education. House of Representatives leaders indicate they may call the House back into session to take up the bill around Aug. 11.]

"The state funding hasn’t even been solidified," Commissioner Fred Coyle said, "so how can we make a decision on spending money if the state funds are not available? That would be sort of foolish, wouldn’t it?"

The one vote against the short-term funding resolution was cast by Commissioner Tom Henning, who had earlier made a motion to hold a special meeting to talk about using a sales tax to fund the project and putting the question to voters. Other commissioners had little appetite for this approach and the motion died for lack of a seconder.

The commissioners' decision buys time to consider funding options as well as to evaluate any potential new developments, such as more details regarding the University of South Florida's plans for its role in a "partnership" with Jackson Labs, and information about the planned hospital that would be part of the "biomedical village." Commissioner Coyle indicated during the meeting that he expeced other announcements from other partners in the near future.

Barron Collier has agreed to donate the land for the Jackson Laboratory, USF facility, Edison charter school and the hospital.

Earlier at the public hearing on the project, support was voiced by heads of the Jackson Laboratory, the USF Medical School, the USF research initiative, Edison College -- which says it will build a charter school adjacent to the lab -- and Florida Gulf Coast University.

Dozens of residents and representatives of various Collier County organizations also expressed views both in favor of and against the project.

 Click here for story from GenomeWeb Daily News

 

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