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Polk County requests $700K back from Polytechnic

Though the Polk County Board of Commissioners gave $1 million to USF Polytechnic to create a business incubator in 2009, the county voted Tuesday to try to recover $700,000 of the money.

Due to the uncertainty of Polytechnics future, commissioners voted unanimously to recover the remaining funds. County Manager Jim Freeman said in an email to The Oracle that Polytechnic is closing its temporarily leased incubator offices, which help private start-up companies develop with university facilities, in Lakeland and Winter Haven.

Given the uncertainty about the future of USF (Polytechnic), Freeman said, the proper course of action was to request the return of the $700,000, which will be reserved by Polk County.

Since fall, USF Polytechnic has gone down a tumultuous path. Sen. JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, headed a major push to separate Polytechnic from the USF System and make it the states 12th public university, a change that was approved by the House and the Senate. But Gov. Rick Scott has yet to sign off on the 2012-13 state budget, which includes a provision to immediately split Polytechnic from USF.

Interim Polytechnic Chancellor David Touchton said in an email to The Oracle hes speaking to local businesses to find an improved business model for the incubator, which was rapidly losing funds.

The $700,000 was a donation for the construction of a business incubator at the new campus. These funds would not be used for years to come, as it is not planned as part of phase one of the new campus construction, he said. The $300,000 was to go toward operation costs of the current business incubators. These funds were rapidly disappearing, mainly due to the cost of the leases.

The commission will now send a formal request to return the $700,000 from USF Polytechnic. If recovered, the money will be placed in a county reserve account.

USF spokesman Michael Hoad said its too soon to tell if USF or an independent Polytechnic would have to pay the commisioners back.

The difficulty is there are really more questions than answers right now until the governor clears thing up for us, Hoad said. If recovered, Freeman said the commisioners would reinvest the funds.

We hope to use the funds in the future for a business incubator program with public and/or private entities, Freeman said. However, until the Polytechnic issue is ultimately resolved, I expect that institution to play an important role in the incubator programs future success.