County Commission denies Montana Egg tax abatement, approves final plat extension for Big Bend Ranch

The Cascade County Commission split the vote for the requested Montana Egg, LLC tax abatement, effectively denying the request.

Commissioner Jim Larson voted against the tax abatement and Commissioner Joe Briggs voted in support. Commissioner Jane Weber was absent.

The proposed abatement was for new or expanding businesses and is allowable under Montana state law. The abatement lasts for 10 years and in the first five years, qualifying improvements are taxed at 25 percent or 50 percent of their taxable value. After that, the percentage increases by equal percentages until the fill taxable value is attained in the 10th year, according to Montana Code Annotated. Once the abatement period ends, the property is taxed at 100 percent of its value.

The county didn’t have an estimate on how much the abatement would have reduced the county’s tax revenues included in the staff report or discussion during the meeting.

The Great Falls City Commission approved the abatement for city taxes during an October meeting.

The city abatement totals $305,620 over 10 years and those funds would not go to the city’s general fund. Once the abatement ends, Montana Egg would resume paying full taxes on the improvements at the property.

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Montana Egg opened the new facility in September at 38th Street North near the intersection with River Drive. The building is a roughly $9 million investment by the company, continuing a 20 year history in Cascade County, said Dan Vuckovich of Anderson ZurMuehlen, speaking for the applicant on Tuesday.

Montana Egg tax abatement request on Tuesday’s commission agenda for a vote

Vuckovich said the facility currently employs about 18 and Montana Egg is hoping to employ 24 at full capacity with an annual payroll of about $1.2 million.

He said the jobs are filled by locals and no Hutterites work there, but the colonies do supply the eggs.

Larson asked why the company didn’t apply for the abatement before opening the facility.

Montana Egg LLC seeking city tax abatement

Vuckovich said they took a leap of faith and “we wanted to show this isn’t just a dream, this is a reality.”

Briggs said there’s conflicting information in that the original intent of the law is for businesses to apply up front, but that the Department of Revenue often encourages businesses to wait until they’ve gotten started.

Briggs said his preference was for businesses to request tax abatements up front to make it easier for the county to project its tax revenue and budget properly.

Briggs said approving tax abatements sets a tone of welcoming investment in the county.

Jolene Schalper with the Great Falls Development Authority said the project adds to the tax base and adds jobs.

She said the wages at Montana Egg are $5 per hour more than minimum wage.

“These are good jobs for Cascade County residents,” Schalper said.

The facility has also spurred additional development around northcentral Montana in upgraded chicken barns at the colonies. That’s been another $2 million or so per barn, Schalper said.

Vuckovich said that three of the colonies providing eggs for the facility are located in Cascade County. The facility processes eggs from caged and free range hens but is moving toward solely sourcing free range hens, according to the company.

Egg producers have the option of joining the co-op to have their eggs processed at the plant, but they have to meet specific standards, according to the company.

No one spoke in opposition to the tax abatement during Tuesday’s meeting.

“I still have a problem with this type of situation where we bring in the application after the fact,” Larson said before voting against the abatement.

Larson said it seemed to him that the project didn’t need the abatement, but Vuckovich said the abatement was factored in to their cash flow projections.

Vuckovich said that rejecting the abatement will be an action noticed by other developers.

“What message does that give,” he said.

Schalper said the project brings jobs to the county and the abatement would allow Montana Egg to speed their timeline in reaching full capacity and could spur further economic development, expansion and investment by the company.

Commissioners approved an extension for the final plat of the Big Bend Ranch subdivision on the southern side of the city at the end of Fox Farm Road.

The preliminary plat was approved in 2001 by what was then the City-County Planning Board. When the subdivision was reviewed in 2001 as part of the Master Development Plan, about 175 tracts were proposed to be brought in by phases. At the time of approval in 2001, the developer signed and filed papers for waiving the right to protest a rural special improvement district for the entire development.

The developer has been granted extensions to file the final plat and so far, 72 residential lots ranging in size from five to 30 acres with 188 acres of reserved open space have been brought in through 14 phases.

Commissioners approved a six month extension for the final plat, making it due in June.

The developer, Tim Wilkinson, said the extension was needed because the surveyor found a previously unnoticed county easement near one of the lots and that he was planning to request that the county vacate the easement.

During their work session last week, Briggs said he wasn’t inclined to allow an extension that would put them outside the Fox Farm Road RSID for another year.

Mary Embleton, the county budget officer, told commissioners that the RSID assessments are set July 1, so the commission agreed that an extension up to that date would be acceptable, but they wanted the final plat done by then so that those properties would be assessed for the Fox Farm road improvements project.