NORMAL — After a lengthy debate, the McLean County Unit 5 board voted 5-2 Monday in favor of a property tax abatement deal with the Brandt Group of Companies, though many voiced their distaste at Unit 5 losing so much revenue.
The Normal-based school district was the first of seven government bodies to make a decision regarding a property tax abatement deal with Brandt Group of Companies.
The Canadian-based manufacturer of equipment for agriculture and other industries, is eyeing a soon-to-be-vacant factory at 19500 N. 1425 East Road, north of Normal. The move, which could generate up to 500 jobs for McLean County in the next decade, is contingent upon the area's taxing bodies agreeing to a decade-long formula of tax abatements.
“It sounds like Brandt is a great company and would be very good for the community, but I’m not understanding why this should be on the backs of our kids,” said board member Taunia Leffler, adding that she felt the board was not given enough time to review the deal.
Through the agreement, the district would lose nearly $40,000 each year in property tax revenue until 2020 when the loss would jump to about $80,000 annually.
Leffler and David Fortner were the two "no" votes.
“In the grand scheme of things, when losing $80,000 a year, that’s like taking away two teaching positions in exchange for bringing over 300 jobs to McLean County,” said board Vice President Barry Hitchens.
Kyle Ham, president of the Bloomington-Normal Economic Development Council, said the final agreement was formed with insight from Unit 5 Superintendent Mark Daniel.
“We understand the financial issues you face,” Ham told the board. “That’s why, for the first few years, we lessened the amount of money abated out. That was a deliberate approach and request from the school district that we built in.”
Board member Joe Cleary said he would put his faith in school administrators who contributed to the negotiations.
“I don’t like the deal,” said Cleary. “But I’m going to have to back our administration on this because, if we turn this down, we’re giving up an opportunity for our community.”
Daniel said the increase in jobs at the plant would keep more families in the district, which could impact funding from the state.
“The new state (school) funding formula is driven by students,” said Daniel. “If we have declining enrollment, it will impact us even more in regards to dollars coming from the state.”
However, Daniel said the blow to the already-hurting education fund “will be difficult.”
“If you’re not growing (as a district), you’re dying. In the long term, (the deal) will benefit our community and schools,” said Daniel.
Brandt President and CEO Shaun Semple told the board via conference call that the company would provide “in-kind contributions” such as internships and technical education for students interested in mechanic and welding careers.
"I'm willing to invest in Illinois. I believe in the market we're moving to but I ask the local community to also view this as an investment," said Semple.
Under the agreement, taxing bodies would give up half of their property taxes on the building for 2018, 2019, 2023 and 2024 and all of the property taxes for 2020, 2021, 2022 if Brandt hits specific hiring targets each year. They also would agree to give up all property taxes on adjacent, currently vacant land from 2018 to 2027, and five years' of property taxes generated by future improvements to the plant by 2027.