NORMAL — Normal Township has decided to give up property tax money over the next decade to bring up to 500 jobs to McLean County.
Nearly a week after board members postponed a decision on an abatement to bring the Brandt Group of Companies, a Canadian agriculture manufacturer, to the soon-to-be-vacated Kongskilde factory in rural Normal, the same deal passed 3-2 Wednesday after more debate about the agreement.
Because future assessments for the properties are unknown, the total value of the abatements can't be calculated, but using the most recent assessment available, they would add up to about $637,000.
McLean County Unit 5 makes up 65 percent of that total; McLean County, 12 percent; Heartland Community College, 8 percent; Hudson Community Fire Protection District, 8 percent; Hudson Area Public Library, 3 percent; Normal Township, 3 percent; and Normal Township Road District, 1 percent.
The share for the township and its road district totals at least $19,000.
Unit 5, McLean County and Heartland also have approved the agreement. The Hudson fire district will vote Monday, and the Hudson library will follow on Tuesday.
Normal Township board members Arlene Hosea and Sally Pyne, who voiced concerns last week about the short turnaround on the deal — it was published earlier that week — joined Ray Ropp in voting "yes" Wednesday morning. Ropp previously voted against delaying the decision.
"I don't think in any agreement that you get all you want," said Ropp. "This is an opportunity to benefit our community, even though we may not be fully supportive of the procedure. We can't afford not to take advantage of this."
Township Supervisor Sarah Grammer and board member Sam Quigle voted "no."
Grammer said last week the deal doesn't do enough to protect the township, including requiring specific investment totals and using "clawback" provisions that allow taxing bodies to recover abated money if a project fails.
Officials have said clawback provisions are difficult to enforce, and they prefer to make incentives depend on performance, as they are in the Brandt deal.
"My concern is that ... we are really underselling ourselves, and that we're not showing just Brandt the kind of community that we are with this deal, but we're showing all future manufacturers that come here the kind of community we are by settling for this quality of an agreement," said Grammer.
"They choose (to come here) because we are struggling and so we'll take whatever deals that come our way," said Quigle after the meeting. "I want to be the community that jobs come to us and they say, 'What can we give you?' instead of 'What can you give us?'"
Kyle Ham, president of the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council, said the deal is "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for McLean County to bring good-paying jobs."
"I understand all these arguments. I'm a former small-town mayor. I take taxpayers' dollars seriously," said Ham. "But we will not see another opportunity like this, probably in my lifetime. In Illinois it just doesn't happen. ... When people say, 'What happens next,' I'm afraid there won't be a next."
Public comments at the meeting were unanimously opposed to the deal.
"I did not elect Kyle Ham or (Vice President) Mike O'Grady at the EDC. ... The idea that they're in charge of the show, and you should vote based on what they say, is deeply troubling to me," said township resident Joel Studebaker. "I could get behind this deal if the EDC said exactly what we're giving up and exactly why it's necessary. But they either cannot or will not tell us."