Hillsboro council OKs tax abatement for company

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DON RATZLAFF
The Hillsboro City Council agreed to continue full tax abatement for a local industry and reviewed updated plans for Main Street renovation during a special meeting Thursday.

Darrel Driggers and Laverne Esau, co-owners of Container Services Inc., were on hand to answer questions about the company’s ability to meet sales and job projections that are tied to the tax-abatement agreement.

Preliminary information indicated the company had fallen short of the goals it had set for itself. A financial report from the company stated sales had grown to $1.195 million in 2002, which was below the projected goal of $2.2 million.

But Driggers said the figure they reported represented only a partial year because their fiscal year ended June 30. The agreement assumes a calendar year.

Driggers said if they would have reported sales for the calendar year 2002, the goal would have been achieved.

In regard to jobs, the 1997 agreement projected 20 jobs by 2002, but the company had reported only 15.

Driggers said 15 was accurate the day the report was filed, but the current figure is “17 or 18.”

He and Esau said job growth has been slower than initially anticipated because of ongoing automation in the plant.

“As we grow, we try to automate more and more,” Driggers said. “Some of it requires fewer people.”

Added Esau, “If you want to stay competitive in the market, you have to upgrade equipment.”

Esau also said if increases in hourly wages were considered, the economic value of the jobs the company provides “has gone up significantly.”

The owners said the company is planning to expand warehouse space in 2003, and wants to move from a 40-hours-a-week production schedule to one that runs 24 hours a day, five days a week-which will entail adding employees.

Councilor Leonard Coryea said the council wants to support economic growth through its tax-abatement program, but it also has the responsibility to look after the interests of the city and the services it must provide.

“Times are tough,” Coryea said. “Our job is to protect the city. How does the city win in this, too?”

He asked whether tax-abatement could be prorated according to performance.

According to the county appraisers office, the value of the property abated from taxes totals nearly $1.053 million for personal property and real estate. That amount would generate a total of $37,470 that would be divided among local and county taxing units.

Jerry Rayl, the city’s financial consultant, said abatement could be prorated, but he also mentioned that the council could consider factors other than just numerical goals in its decision.

“For one thing, the economy is horrible,” he said, “and jobs are at a premium everywhere.”

In the end, Councilor Byron McCarty recommended the tax abatement be continued at 100 percent. After a long pause for a second, which Coryea offered, the recommendation passed 4-0.

Bob Previtera, the city’s engineer, presented drawings that detailed the Main Street renovation project slated for this spring.

With the exception of a few adjustments, the scope of the project had not changed significantly since it was described at the Hillsboro Chamber of Commerce meeting last month.

The council received some clarification on the replacement of curbs and sidewalks.

Generally, six feet of sidewalk closest to the street will be replaced. In some case, where the sidewalk has deteriorated closer to the buildings, more will be replaced.

Previtera also said all driveways currently existing along the two-block section of downtown Main will not be replaced. Instead, curbing will extend the full two blocks.

Asked if businesses that currently have driveways in front of their buildings had been notified, City Administrator Steven Garrett said, “I haven’t knocked on everyone’s door.”

The only issues still to be finalized is the nature of the street lighting to use along Main, and what to do about the stoplight that hangs at the intersection of Main and Grand.

Regarding street lights, Previtera suggested some options and received input from the council and mayor. He will follow up their suggestions with price information.

As for the stoplight, which the council agreed was an eyesore as it now hangs, no consensus emerged.

Switching to stop signs could result in more fender-benders-which, Mayor Delores Dalke said, was the main reason the city switched to a stop light in the first place.

Buying pole stoplights would be cost prohibitive.

Previtera said he would price some options.

Bids for the project will be received later this month.

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