By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium
BENTON TOWNSHIP — A Benton Township food processing company received unanimous board approval Tuesday for a tax abatement.
However, after a few residents and trustees voiced concerns about the length of the abatement – originally proposed to last 12 years – Treasurer Debbie Boothby motioned for a tax abatement lasting 10 years. Representatives from Great Lakes Farmers Distribution Center LLC and Cornerstone Alliance spoke at great length at Tuesday’s public hearing concerning what the abatement will cover.
The business, otherwise known as Pero Family Farms Food Co., has been operating in the township at 2130 Yore Ave. for a decade and now plans to retrofit its building to include fresh-cut vegetable processing.
Chief Operating Officer Joe Powell said the company considered three states in which to expand operations, after outgrowing their Florida facility: Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania.
“Our business has changed. We would like to retrofit our facility so we can better service our customers by delivering fresher product and changing our distribution facility into a processing facility,” he said. “The equipment involved are snippers, baggers, scales, a whole lot of stainless steel wash down. That’s why we have to retrofit – to make sure every thing is food safe.”
Powell said the retrofit will allow the seasonal company to become a full-time operation.
The company would retain its 50 employees and create about 74 jobs over the next three years as a result of the renovation. Some positions will be found outside of the region, but the majority will be filled locally, Powell said.
The project’s total cost is an estimated $3.5 million – accounting for $850,000 for the building renovations and $2.7 million for machinery and equipment purchases. The tax abatement would give the company a 50 percent tax break with the township during the suggested period.
However, Township Clerk Carolyn Phillips said the company’s $2.7 million investment for machinery and equipment will not be part of the granted tax abatement, due to the state’s elimination of personal property taxes.
Before approving the tax abatement, trustees agreed to establish the nearly 20-acre parcel as an industrial development district.
Residents express concerns
Benton Township resident Cindy Miller was one of the residents who has a problem with the tax abatement. She argued the abatement’s length is too long for a township of this size.
“My concern was the tax abatement is for such a long period of time, when we so desperately need money in our township to help support our firefighters, police officers, schools, everything,” she said. “Twenty-five to 30 full-time jobs is a wonderful thing, but how many of those jobs are minimum wage versus higher-paying jobs?”
Out of the 26 positions to be created in the first year of the renovations, Powell said less than 10 jobs will be minimum wage, which are based on the employee skill sets.
After the meeting adjourned, Trustee Cathy Yates said she’s still not comfortable with the length of the abatement.
“I went along with it because I want to see more jobs in the township,” Yates said. “But I hate to see schools lose money. They are in desperate need of money.”
Superintendent Elden Piontek reminded the board and audience members that Great Lakes Farmers Distribution will still have to pay 50 percent of taxes on its remodeling costs, as well as additional sewer and permit fees.
Trustee Calli Berg said based on renovation costs, the school district will still receive a large amount of funding in tax relief.
“While the abatement does cut that in half, it’s significantly more than if you were not doing the expansion,” she said. “I recognize that you could have expanded elsewhere. I welcome the fact that you have chosen Benton Township as the home of your expansion.”
(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Sept. 16, 2015)