The debate over tax write-offs in West Jefferson reached county commissioners Monday, and they seemed to disagree with the move.
Commissioners David Dhume and Paul Gross shared with David Kell, Director of the Chamber of Commerce and the CIC, their concerns with the move by the Jefferson Local School Board to give Jefferson Industries Corporation (JIC) a 100 percent tax abatement for 15 years on a new addition to their facility.
The auto parts manufacturer said they would take the $7.5 million expansion, and the 22 new jobs that come with it, to their plant in Georgia if a competitive abatement wasn’t passed.
As part of the deal, JIC will give the district a one-time check of $200,000 for what is considered phase one of the expansion. A second phase is possible and, if completed, the district will receive a second check for $150,000.
The next steps in the process involve West Jefferson village council voting on the abatement before final approval by the commissioners.
Commissioner Gross thought the company was bluffing and felt that the school board could have pushed a little against what he considered “an ultimatum.”
“It’s easy to say ‘I’m going to Georgia with my 22 jobs’ but it’s a lot harder to go to Georgia,” he told Kell during the meeting. “Remember, it’s not called ‘Georgia Industries’… it’s called Jefferson Industries. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work with them, they shouldn’t issue ultimatums at 100 percent and everybody capitulates.”
Gross argued that because the company had its roots firmly planted in West Jefferson since 1988, it was unlikely they would leave.
Dhume was concerned with public opinion from the move, particularly the $350,000 lump sum given to the district. The commissioner argued it “looks like a trade off.”
“I thought we did lump sums years ago and then they were frowned upon by the state. They decided it wasn’t good policy,” he said. “This is what the general public does not understand and does not like. It’s just a fact. They understand what an abatement is. They feel it puts more of a burden on residential property.”
Kell said he had discussions beforehand with the Village of West Jefferson, JIC and the school board, about different scenarios, such as 75 percent abatements. The commissioners questioned why Kell had not informed them of the discussions.
“In the past, the commissioners have not been present for these abatement discussions, beyond final approval. Is there any conflict of interest of why we should not be in these discussions? No. So then we should be at the table,” said Dhume.
Kell said it was an oversight.
“In the future, we plan to get more people involved,” he told commissioners. “In revised code, when you talk about these agreements, the group that needs to give the final approval is the school board, that’s it. That’s why it was overlooked.”
Gross didn’t feel that was a sufficient reason, considering the county is a stakeholder.
“If you want to collaborate you got to communicate, and the communication was bad,” Gross told Kell.
The commissioners also wanted to make it clear they would not hinder the process, but wanted Kell and the CIC to try and keep them in the loop for the future.
Kell said he was working on a way to make sure as many parties would be involved, but the different needs of each community made the process a bit difficult, and thus wasn’t sure what the protocols would look like exactly.
“I enjoy these discussions, I really do. There’s always some way we can improve and I appreciate feedback,” he told commissioners.
West Jefferson’s village council will vote on the matter during its Jan. 3 meeting at 7 p.m. The matter will also be discussed during the Dec. 19 council meeting. The issue will be brought to the commissioners for approval Jan. 9. All meetings are open to the public.
Maximilian Kwiatkowski can be reached at 740-852-1616, ext. 1617 or on Twitter @MSFKwiat.
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