UNION TOWNSHIP – Monday night, Union Township Trustees told MPW Industrial Services CEO Monte Black that he can rest assured trustees would approve a 100 percent, 15-year tax abatement once all the paperwork is ready.
Black told trustees MPW representatives believed Licking County approved the tax abatement when it began construction last summer on its $10 million, 76,000 square feet technology and engineering facility, and that abatement was factored into the budget. He said somehow the abatement “fell through the cracks” and neither trustees nor Lakewood School Board members were aware of it until late last year. Lakewood School Board members unanimous approved the abatement after meeting with Black on Feb. 10.
Black said the new facility has already added 29 jobs (its abatement application promised 25 jobs) and $1.5 million into the local community. “Is there any reason you wouldn’t want to give us the abatement?” he asked.
Trustee John Slater said the township’s emergency services have to be ready at all times to service the new facility, if necessary. “The cost of being ready is expensive,” he said. Slater suggested MPW could contribute capital to the emergency services if the abatement is approved.
Black said in July 2013 he spoke to former trustee and current Licking County Commissioner Rick Black about the abatement, and Monte Black said he didn’t know the other trustees weren’t aware of the discussion. “I’m not sure how that happened,” Black said. “Obviously, it fell through the cracks.” He said trustees should not to penalize MPW for something that is not the company’s fault.
“I’m saying (the abatement) wasn’t passed on to us,” said Trustee President Charles Prince. “I understand your position.” He said he understands money was invested, but trustees must also be good stewards to the residents of the township who pay 100 percent of their taxes.
“We’re trying to drive our organization through the windshield, not the rear view mirror,” Black said, adding that MPW has routinely given back to its community and he doesn’t believe the township has ever approached him for help. “I’m always available,” he said. “Tell me why you wouldn’t give (the abatement) to us. I think you should.”
Slater said MPW helped clean up Hebron after a March 2012 “back-building” thunderstorm flooded most of the village. He said other township residents may believe they carry an undue burden paying 100 percent of their taxes.
“We’re between a rock and a hard place,” said Prince. “MPW should not be responsible for the failure of others.” He said Rick Black did not have the authority to grant the abatement on his own. Prince added that he reviewed trustee meeting minutes from June through November 2013 and found no mention that Rick Black told his two fellow trustees about the abatement request.
Prince said he doesn’t want the Union Township Trustees to bring the county’s economic development efforts “to a screeching halt,” explaining that stories about Licking County reneging on an abatement after construction had started could negatively affect efforts to attract new companies to the county for years, He suggested trustees approve the abatement. Prince said if the township has capital needs for its emergency services, MPW should be willing to discuss financial contributions.
“Yes,” Monte Black said.
“I’m not going to do a Rick Black,” Prince said, and asked for a motion to approve the abatement officially.
Trustee Randy Weekly said he appreciated Monte Black coming to the trustees in person to discuss the request. He favored the abatement “if we can work hand in hand” and begin to build a relationship between the township and MPW.
Slater said he would welcome financial help with the emergency services.
Township Administrator Paula Greene said there are several documents trustees should review before approving the abatement.
Since the documents weren’t available, Prince suggested trustees consider a motion of intent to approve the 100 percent, 15-year abatement once the documents are reviewed. Slater and Weekly agreed.
Rick Black said Tuesday that back in 2013, while he was still a Union Township Trustee, he, Licking County Commissioner Tim Bubb, and former Licking County Economic Development Director Dan Evers met with MPW representatives to discuss what abatements may be available as MPW decided whether to build its new facility in Licking County or Texas.
Black said they discussed possibilities and told MPW the various entities, such as the Lakewood School District and the Union Township Trustees would need to discuss those possibilities among themselves before anything could be approved.
And then, Black said no one heard back from MPW. “Nobody officially promised them any abatement,” he said. Black said there was a definite communication breakdown. He said two abatements were left in question when Evers left his position, but, “This was the big one,” Black said. “It’s unfortunate it got screwed up the way it did.” Black said MPW only spoke with one trustee (him) and he wouldn’t speak for the other two – Black, Slater, and Jesse Ours were the trustees at the time.
As county commissioner, Black said he anticipates the Licking County Commissioners will approve the abatement whenever it appears on their agenda.
Licking County Chamber of Commerce President Cheri Hottinger said the misunderstanding about the abatement was a “mixture of many things.” She said she was aware of the situation after Evers left his position.
“He had done some work on the project since it was first introduced back in early 2013, but not much follow-up occurred with the Lakewood School Board or the Union Township Trustees after that,” Hottinger said.
“The County Commissioners were aware of the project in general, but the details were left to Grow Licking County, and many of the elected officials now in office were not part of the discussions in 2013,” she said. “So, we definitely dropped the ball on the communication end of things.
“The most important thing is that we now are aware of what didn’t work and have made changes to make sure it doesn’t happen like that again. I hope everyone can move forward and put this chaos behind us,” Hottinger said.
Former Union Township Trustee Jack Justice attended Monday meeting and said in the past, trustees “made it a point” not to go to industry for emergency services support, but he now believes that circumstances have changed. He said it may have been an oversight not to do so.
Prince said some companies with abatements have left when their abatements ran out, but believes that’s not a risk with MPW.
New Licking County Director of Development Nate Strum attended Monday night’s meeting to introduce himself to the trustees and assure he’ll meet with them regularly. Union Township helps support Grow Licking County with a three-year commitment to provide $2,500 annually to support its efforts.
Strum said he’s from Pittsburgh, where during the last seven years he worked with Allegheny County Economic Development and then with the Regional Industrial Development Corporation of Southwestern Pennsylvania, a non-profit whose mission is to diversify Southwestern Pennsylvania’s regional economy through the creation of industrial and manufacturing opportunities.
Prince said Union Township could use Strum’s help to fill vacant or underused buildings in the township’s section of the Newark Industrial Park. Strum said it is a priority.
In other business Monday night, Justice reported the Hebron Historical Society has moved their museum from their shopping center storefront into the former meeting room at the township garage on National Road. The Hebron shopping center will be razed early this spring and replaced with a Dollar General store.
Trustees agreed earlier this year, after consulting with the county prosecutor’s office to let the non-profit society move to the unused meeting room. Justice said the space is “a little tight,” but is thankful they have a new home. The space is being provided at no charge, but the museum will be responsible for any upgrades like painting or floor-covering. Justice expects the museum will reopen in April.
Health- Newark- Licking County Port Authority President and CEO Rick Platt updated trustees on the status of the Seminary Ridge Business Park. He said a purchase agreement to buy the 300+ acre site from the Archdiocese of Columbus was signed in May 2015. Closing has been delayed by some title issues which he believes could take another 60- 90 days to resolve. A 130-acre tract of the future business park is already in the Village of Hebron with most of the balance in Union Township. A portion is in the City of Health.
The property already has rail but will need water and sewer to develop. Platt said they are talking to Heath about water and Hebron for sewer.
Prince asked if annexation will be the next issue. Platt said that was one of two options, but said if that is the ultimate course the township would still retain the property tax revenue currently generated. A joint economic development district is the other option. The projected layout includes a 2,000,000 square foot building that would require a portion of Beaver Run Road to be relocated.