Fairfield Ledger
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Neighbors Growing Together | Jul 25, 2014

Application for Heartland tax credits amended

By DIANE VANCE | Jul 07, 2014

The Jefferson County Board of Supervisors approved an amended application for tax credits regarding Heartland Co-op for Iowa Economic Development Authority High Quality Jobs Program.

Jefferson County assistant county attorney Pat McAvan explained the application on behalf of Heartland Co-op to the state had been approved in April by the supervisors.

McAvan and supervisor Lee Dimmitt attended a June meeting in Des Moines about the IEDA application.

“IEDA requested additional information,” said McAvan. “We clarified and described the local match more broadly. That’s included in the amended application which the board of supervisors have signed and will resubmit with the requested changes.”

Dimmitt said the amendment makes the county’s commitment less than it was previously.

“It does,” agreed McAvan. “But it also broadens what is allowed for the county to use as a match. It’s not limited to Nutmeg and Osage avenues’ upgrades. The county can leverage all resources to use in this application. It gives the county more options.”

Those resources to use for the county’s matching requirements could include upgrades to the intersections of Salina Road and 185th Street with Pleasant Plain Road, said Dimmitt.

“No county money is being contributed to Heartland Co-op,” said Dimmitt. “Any money Heartland Co-op receives will come from the state, not the county.”

More than a dozen people with concerns and questions about Heartland Co-op’s grain storage attended this morning’s meeting. The facility is under construction at Nutmeg Avenue and Highway 34 to the east of Fairfield

Audience member Carole Simmons said the application’s directions indicate a project cannot start until IEDA has given final approval.

“Clearly, the project has started, and this application hasn’t been finally approved,” she said.

McAvan said that was a question to ask of IEDA, not the county.

“The only part of this involving the county is about the roads, and that isn’t started yet,” he said.

Audience member Roger Leahy said the county has to support the application for the state to approve it.

“I’m here asking you not to endorse this,” he said “Heartland Co-op is only adding six permanent jobs to the community. It hardly seems like economic development — more like corporate welfare whereby Heartland Co-op is seeking some $1.5 million in Iowa and local tax abatements.”

Leahy said when Overland Sheepskin Company moved its office to Fairfield 32 years ago from Taos, New Mexico, he moved to live here. The headquarters for the company was built in Fairfield in 1984 without any requests for funds from any levels of government.

The company employs about 30 people, with a local payroll for the most recent fiscal year of $1.8 million in salaries, wages and bonuses; and $350,000 in local payroll taxes and benefits. The company has paid about $250,000 locally in the last fiscal year for consultants such as programmers, accountants, graphic artists and web marketing consultants.

He read a statement containing these figures, continuing:

“Between our employees’ and family’s wages and our Overland income for 2014, we collectively will be paying nearly $200,000 annually in Iowa income taxes. Our family pays about $22,000 a year in property taxes on our building and land at 2096 Nutmeg Ave.

“I figure Overland is contributing well over $2.5 million annually to our local economy.”

He contrasted that with Heartland Co-op, which is asking for grants, tax abatements, interest-free loans and infrastructure improvements.

Leahy said his family and company are not opposed to having Heartland Co-op build grain elevators, but objects to the selected site only a mile from city limits and near the Leahys’ family residences, llama herd and business.

Audience member Rick Archer said if 50 percent of the dire warnings about air quality and increased truck traffic come to pass with the building and operation of the grain elevators, what would the effect be for local property values. He worries value will decrease.

“What I’m hearing is that you don’t want us to sign any papers that have anything to do with Heartland Co-op,” said Dick Reed, chairman of board of supervisors.

“We’re elected officials, elected to represent all of the county. I get it; the board gets it, about your concerns,” he said. “We can’t just sit here and not do anything. We’ve told you before, we don’t have the mechanism to stop this.

“I think anytime Heartland Co-op is on the agenda, this room will fill up.

“I’d worry more about property values going down from the publicity of differences such as this,” said Reed. “This is rural America. Iowa is a farming community. Trucks go through here already, only now, they’ll stop.”

Leahy said he didn’t see how it would hurt Heartland Co-op to ask for an environmental impact study.

“The county has the authority to ask,” said Leahy. “Part of our fear is that we can’t get any information. Getting more information is a positive thing. By signing this application, it’s going full-speed ahead.”

Another audience member said he had data about Heartland Co-op’s other facilities where communities were complaining about environmental factors.

“The elephant in the room is meditators versus non-meditators,” he said. “Well, these other facilities are not in Fairfield, it’s not about meditators.”

Audience member Beth Williams said not having the application be public is against the American way of letting people partake in decisions.

“We’ve already approved the application in April and IEDA asked for modifications,” said supervisors Becky Schmitz. “So it would be reneging on our part not to approve the amendment.”

McAvan explained Jefferson County and the supervisors were not the custodians of record for the application.

“The Legislature has made a law about this, applications are exempt from public view until the final action, which has not been taken,” he said “The document belongs to IEDA and it is up to them to release it to the public, but it hasn’t taken its final action on it yet.”

Reed said the supervisors haven’t been allowed to do their jobs.

“You have not let us do our jobs,” he said. “And it gets other people thinking we’re not doing our jobs or not doing something right.”

Leahy said he knows the supervisors don’t want to keep hearing the same things again.

“But I wish we could know more and find out more information,” said Leahy.

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