BLOOMINGTON — Despite reservations, only one McLean County Board member voted Tuesday not to give away property tax money over the next decade to bring up to 500 jobs to the county.
The board voted 16-1 for a deal to bring the Brandt Group of Companies, a Canadian agriculture manufacturer, to a soon-to-be-vacated factory at 19500 N. 1425 East Road in rural Hudson, forgoing an unknown amount of future revenue to beat out competing locations in Iowa and Ohio.
"We need to have manufacturing jobs, because it does affect not only jobs, it affects (property values and) housing ... and that affects property taxes," said County Board Chairman John McIntyre.
"We've lost jobs over the last few years," he added. "We can't continue to rely on increased housing development. State Farm isn't continuing to hire (more). So we need these kind of manufacturing jobs."
Board member Jacob Beard voted against the abatement.
"This is the type of company that we want here ... but what would we say 'no' to?" he said. "What's to keep the next company from saying, 'Hey, we're going to leave Bloomington unless you give us money'? ... It's a tough precedent to set because it shrinks the tax base for a decade."
Board member Scott Murphy said the worse outcome is to not approve the deal and let the property decay, reducing its property tax output.
The company will receive at least $600,000 from the abatement by seven taxing bodies, based on the property's current taxable value, as long as Brandt meets hiring goals, including 300 full-time workers by 2025. About two-thirds of that money would come from the Normal-based McLean County Unit 5 school district, which signed off Monday, and 12 percent would come from the county. The company predicts hiring up to 500 workers.
The county will begin to receive the majority of the abated property taxes again in 2025, when the plant's property tax value would be much improved under the deal. Brandt plans to spend $13 million on improvements to the plant in the next two years and another $8 million over the subsequent eight years.
Brandt President and CEO Shaun Semple told the board by phone that the company plans to hire local workers for the plant. He also promoted job creation on the company's local supply chain and potential expansion by Brandt at the site.
Members questioned whether the deal is strong enough to ensure that investment. It doesn't have "clawback" provisions, which would let the county get previous incentives back if the company falters.
They also questioned the process by which the deal was considered. County Board members didn't get a final agreement with Brandt until Sunday night, though it was negotiated by the county, Unit 5 and other local officials over several months.
Though four other taxing bodies have yet to approve the deal, the county scheduled a special board meeting Tuesday so Brandt could get approval from Unit 5 and the county before Wednesday — when the company is set to officially agree to buy what's now the Kongskilde Industries plant.
McIntyre said he's unsure if Brandt would be discouraged by "no" votes from the remaining taxing bodies. Normal Township, which taxes property not only for its general fund but also separately for road improvements, has expressed concerns about the deal; its board meets Thursday morning.
Heartland Community College's board is set to consider the deal Tuesday. President Rob Widmer said he's leaning toward recommending approval.
The Hudson Community Fire Protection District will meet to consider the deal next week, said Chief Jeff Thomas, and the Hudson Area Public Library District planned to schedule a special meeting for that purpose by Wednesday morning, said library Director Suzanne Drucker.
McIntyre noted that Dry Grove Township, which is not involved in the Brandt project, did not sign off on an abatement for Rivian Automotive, which received a similar abatement deal last year.