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An aerial photo shows the Kongskilde manufacturing plant north of Bloomington.

FOR THE PANTAGRAPH

NORMAL — Normal Township officials don't plan to fall in line just because the McLean County Unit 5 school board and the county board have agreed to give away property taxes for a decade to bring up to 500 jobs to the county.

"I wasn't elected to follow what they do. I was elected to have a mind of my own," said board member Arlene Hosea. "I need to do due diligence and do all the research I can do so I can make an informed vote."

Instead, the board voted 3-1 on Thursday to meet again 8 a.m. Wednesday on a tax abatement plan for the Brandt Group of Companies, a Canadian agriculture manufacturer considering occupying the soon-to-be-vacated Kongskilde factory at 19500 N. 1425 East Road in rural Normal.

The Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council, the county and Unit 5 negotiated with Brandt for months to reach the agreement. 

"I was dismayed with my elected school board members and county board representative. ... They were pressured to vote without feeling adequately informed," said board member Sally Pyne. "I feel supportive as well, but ... if somebody asked me about it right now, 'Why'd you do that?' I'm not sure I'd have a good answer, and I want to be able to have a good answer."

Board member Ray Ropp voted no to the delay.

"You're basically saying that you don't have any respect for their judgment," he told Hosea of the school and county board members.

Township officials, especially Supervisor Sarah Grammer, tangled with EDC and county staff on whether the deal is good enough.

"I see nothing in this language that shows partnership, only taking on their part. And if we're going to do that for every business that comes forward in the future, we're going to be in trouble pretty quickly," Grammer said. "The town and the city of Bloomington, a lot of their revenue comes from sales tax (and) income tax. Our budget is purely property tax."

Unit 5 gets most of its operating revenue from property tax, but also gets state money.

EDC President Kyle Ham said Brandt still has not finalized its purchase of the plant, which was scheduled for Wednesday, and urged the board not to jeopardize it. The township collects 4 percent of the taxes to be abated, versus 65 percent for the school district and 12 percent for the county.

Heartland Community College, Hudson Community Fire Protection District and Hudson Area Public Library District have yet to approve the agreement. They get 8 percent, 8 percent and 3 percent of affected taxes, respectively.

Grammer pressed officials on why the deal has no "clawback" provision, which would let the affected taxing bodies reclaim taxes they've already forgiven if Brandt leaves during, or possibly after, the deal. Bridgestone Tires had such a clause in a local expansion deal approved in 2011, she said.

"As long as they're planning to be here after they take the abatement dollars, they risk nothing by having that in the agreement. So why wouldn't they allow that?" said Grammer, referring to Brandt.

Assistant State's Attorney Don Knapp said officials chose instead to negotiate performance-based incentives that won't be paid unless Brandt reaches specific employment goals. He noted Bridgestone had those as well, and that paid off for taxing bodies after the company missed some goals.

"We didn't think Brandt would agree to it," he said of clawback language. "Could ... they pull up and leave (after getting the abatements)? You bet. But what did you get in return?"

He added that the township would likely spend more trying to get its money back than it abated in the first place.

Grammer also questioned why the company redacted information about its projected $21 million investment in the plant, some of which will be equipment — personal property that doesn't guarantee more property taxes.

Follow Derek Beigh on Twitter: @pg_beigh

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