County reconsiders Montana Eggs tax abatement, approves request
Continuing the tension from last week’s work session, County Commissioners debated whether a tax abatement for Montana Eggs LLC should be back on the agenda during their Jan. 9 meeting.
“We already voted,” said Commissioner Jim Larson, who at various points during the meeting raised his voice at the applicant’s representative and Commissioner Jane Weber. “I don’t believe we need this back up.”
Weber had missed the December meeting when the abatement was initially considered and said that she had learned her lesson and would pull big items from the agenda in the future if she was going to miss a meeting.
During the December meeting, Larson and Commissioner Briggs split the vote 1-1, which commissioners and Carey Ann Haight, the county attorney, said had not happened to any of their memories in at least the last decade.
After that vote, the applicant reviewed state laws and county criteria for tax abatement for new and expanding industry, the type for which they were applying, and wrote a letter to commissioner requesting the abatement be reconsidered.
Dan Vuckovich of Anderson Zurmuehlen and representing Montana Eggs said “We believe it met the legal requirement.
There is no estimate for the amount of county taxes to be abated, but the Montana Department of Revenue has estimated the abatement to be $305,260 on a $9.3 million facility over 10 years for both city and county taxes. That’s the same estimate the city used when granting the tax abatement in October. The estimate was developed from installment costs and DOR plans to appraise the facility in the next few months, DOR told The Electric.
The proposed abatement is 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.
Larson said he didn’t believe the company needed the abatement since they seem to already have cash flow and Larson asked questions indicating he had issues with the colonies profits and the business structure itself.
Those issues, Vuckovich said, are irrelevant since they aren’t part of the legal criteria for granting abatements.
Briggs and Jolene Schalper of the Great Falls Development Authority said tax abatements are an economic development tool available to local governments. Schalper said that companies often factor those into their cash flow projections, provided their projects meet the legal requirements. She said GFDA has been encouraging companies to bring their abatement applications to the city and county early in the process since both entities have expressed a desire to consider the request before a project is completed.
Schalper said companies need predictability to invest in the Great Falls community.
Larson said “just because you file, I don’t think it should be given,” though he said he had approved abatements in the past without asking many questions.
Briggs said it’s not the role of the commission to review the details of the business, but to use the few economic development tools they have under state law while ensuring they follow the legal requirements.
“We are saying Cascade County is open for business,” he said.
Weber said the commission needs to show they are willing to accept new and expanding businesses and that they had previously approved abatements for projects that had already been constructed.
“This business has followed the criteria,” she said.
Larson moved to deny the abatement and the motion failed 1-2. Briggs moved to approved and the motion passed 2-1.