By Leah Sander
WARSAW — Louis Dreyfus Co. has received two tax abatements and got some strong support along the way from a former ambassador who served during President Trump’s administration.
Kosciusko County Council granted the requests, but it was less than originally sought.
On Thursday, June 10, the council approved the abatements for the company’s Claypool location.
At the council’s last meeting in May, Louis Dreyfus Co. attorney Steve Snyder and Commercial Manager Jeremy Mullins made the initial request for the abatements. They asked for one real estate tax abatement for 10 years with new construction valued at $18,272,000 and one personal property tax abatement for five years with improvements valued at $14,098,000.
The latter abatement was broken down into $12,710,000 in manufacturing equipment, $870,000 in IT equipment and $518,000 in logistics equipment. The project is to be finished at the end of 2022.
On Thursday, the council opted to give the company about half of what it originally requested in both length of abatement terms and dollar amounts. It approved granting the company a real estate tax abatement for five years at a cap of $9 million and a personal property tax abatement for three years at a cap of $6 million.
Council voted 4-2 for those conditions. In favor were Council President Ernie Wiggins, Vice President Sue Ann Mitchell and Members Kim Cates and Jon Garber. Opposed were Members Mike Long and Joni Truex.
Member Kathy Groninger abstained from the vote due to related work her husband Cary Groninger is doing.
Following the meeting, it was discovered that Long should have abstained from voting as well due to also having a conflict of interest. He was not aware that he should have abstained from the vote during the meeting.
However, as County Auditor Michelle Puckett pointed out to InkFreeNews, whether or not he abstained would not have changed the outcome of the vote as a majority would still approve it.
The council’s vote followed both discussion amongst members and a lengthy public hearing, the latter of which included 10 people speaking in favor and one against.
Included among those speaking in favor was Kip Tom, who served in the Trump Administration as United Nations Ambassador to Rome-based organizations. He’s from Leesburg and operates Tom Farms and is considered a major voice in a wide variety of agricultural issues.
Tom talked about the importance of agriculture manufacturing jobs staying in Indiana and the county.
“In 2004, I agreed to serve on the Indiana Economic Development Corp. Board with Gov. (Mitch) Daniels at that time. And as we reviewed Indiana agriculture where we had weaknesses, it was in manufacturing, it was in … processing,” he said, pointing out that all the crops that were being sent out of state for processing. He said Louis Dreyfus Co. was one of the plants that came in to address that problem.
“As we look at this $150 million original construction of this plant, we look at the local contractors that benefitted. They bought bins from CTB in Milford, Indiana. They bought concrete from Leesburg and they continue to do those kind of activities today, so this is about the community,” he continued.
“But over that period of time they bought nearly $8 billion dollars worth of soybeans. … Plus as you heard earlier they’re paying about $11 million in wages. It’s the contribution back to the community but as Mitch said, he said it’s one thing to go out and attract businesses to come to your county, but your work’s not done. It goes much further than that. It’s about retention and it’s about making sure you sponsor it and focus on that growth and continuing to grow,” he said.
“They buy from nearly 225 farmers in Kosciusko County. We used to sell typically to a great plant down in Decatur, Indiana. … But today if we look at the difference in their price and our price, if you look at 25 cents in adding in the additional freight to get down there, it would be $450 a semi load,” he said.
The other people who spoke in favor included employees of the company and those employed in area businesses whose work is linked to Louis Dreyfus Co.
Speaking in opposition was Bob Bishop of Leesburg.
“You know all the things that Louis Dreyfus has done in the past are great. They’re a great company. I don’t disagree with that a bit. But nothing will change if they don’t get an abatement,” he said, meaning that they would still complete the project.
“If you vote no, then that abatement goes away and the taxes that can be collected, can then be used (for) infrastructure of Kosciusko County, on the roads in the southern part of the county. They could also help any of the other areas in this particular county that need help,” he said.
“But you know all of these employees and all of these contractors that have talked, that’s great. I appreciate every one of them. I’ve used several of them, but you know their businesses will still be there even though the abatement gets turned down,” he added.
“The whole thing is, everybody in this county has to pay their taxes. I pay a lot of taxes and so do all my neighbors who farm in this county. Kip I know pays a lot of taxes as we all do and we pay them on time. So that’s important from my standpoint and from an agriculture standpoint that we look at all these tax abatements that keep coming down to the wire all the time, not necessarily are they beneficial to all of Kosciusko County,” he said.
Council members also discussed the measure and questioned Louis Dreyfus Co. representatives on it. Among their discussion was that they should work to retain business and the Kosciusko County Redevelopment Commission supported the abatements. They also pointed out drainage and road damage concerns in the area and claimed the company had not paid its taxes on time in the past.
The council’s next regular meeting is 6 p.m. Thursday, July 8, at the courthouse’s Old Courtroom.