Board hears pros, cons of Heartland project
Two people among the approximately 25 at Monday’s Jefferson County Board of Supervisors meeting were open about not wanting Heartland Co-op to build an elevator grain storage facility at Nutmeg Avenue and Highway 34.
County resident Marcia Hansen said she’d like to see higher prices for grain being paid to area farmers, one of the benefits farmers brought up Monday at the meeting about the co-op building a new facility. But she expressed several concerns about the proposed location, increased truck traffic on local roads, tax incentives being offered to Heartland Co-op and others talking about competitive business being good for economic development.
“Heartland Co-op is growing at a fast rate, and I hear you talking about competitive business and economic growth, but this large co-op is more like a monopoly than competition,” said Hansen.
Jeananne Robins also asked about tax incentives offered to Heartland Co-op and during the meeting, shook her head at some comments regarding benefits the new business could bring to the county.
“We don’t have zoning laws in the county; we have no building regulations in the county,” said supervisor chairman Dick Reed. “Heartland Co-op has done its due diligence, bought the land, done its research work and has a plan. It’s a business. Heartland will ask to get as much as possible.
“But, we’re a business, too,” said Reed. “The county is a business and we’ll look at what we can get. If I had a choice, I wouldn’t do any tax rebate. But we could do it for one year.”
The supervisors have said any tax rebate to Heartland Co-op would be only from a Tax Increment Finance district to be established, that would be from property taxes collected above and beyond what the county needs in a year to pay on bonds taken out to upgrade roads.
All local taxing entities would continue to receive property taxes based on the land. Heartland has bought 162 acres and 150 acres will remain in row crops. The remaining 12 acres will be developed with grain elevators and roads for trucks and the facility’s rail siding.
The TIF money captured will be only the taxes paid on the elevators and any other structures/facilities built by Heartland to improve the 12 acres.
Batavia farmer Nick Adam asked the supervisors not to squeeze the deal too hard.
Reed and supervisor Lee Dimmitt had earlier said no contracts are signed, no decision reached yet about the proposed project. Dimmitt outlined how the financial picture looked at this point in the process (see story in Monday’s Ledger).
“It’s helpful to hear comments from the community,” said supervisor Becky Schmitz. “We want to negotiate [with Heartland Co-op] in good faith and having some type of tax rebate was a starting point.
“I’ve heard concerns about locating a large grain elevator facility at the eastern edge of town, and what that will do to the town’s entrance view,” she said. “I’m born and raised in Iowa — and as a child, riding along in the car, a grain elevator always indicated we’d reached a different town.
“It’s part of the Iowa character and we need to respond to the area’s agricultural community here,” said Schmitz. “I’ve talked with people who have worked with Heartland Co-op and say it’s a good business. I think we need to continue with this process.”
“I want to do business. I want to see our county grow,” said Reed. “I’m proud of you guys showing up today to learn more and express your opinions.”
Hansen said the board of supervisors should negotiate with due diligence.
She asked what the plan would be for paving Nutmeg Avenue if funds aren’t available to widen and/or repair the railroad underpass.
“It will have heavier traffic on it if Heartland Co-op builds,” said Hansen. “I’d like to see a traffic study/count on Pleasant Plain Road. According to my layman’s calculations, if Heartland Co-op has 110 train cars to fill each week, that’s 300 trucks a day.
“Is it fair to build this facility a step away from the Leahy family’s residence and llama farm?” asked Hansen.
Greg Adam said he lives in Wapello County, just across the line from Jefferson County.
“I farm and I own my own semi to haul grain,” he said. “Jefferson County needs to upgrade the roads and the underpass. I think Heartland Co-op would be a great addition here. Even if I don’t get 5-10-cents difference in price, I’ll still save money by not having to drive so far to sell my grain.”
Gary Adam, a farmer who lives on Salina Road between Nutmeg Avenue and Pleasant Plain Road, said he also hauls grain.
“If we’re talking about 400 to 500 trucks a week at the most, [delivering grain to Heartland Co-op] most of those trucks will be traveling on the four-lane to get there,” he said. “The increase in traffic along county roads is more like 20-30 trucks coming from the northern parts of the county, and most of those are already driving those same county roads.”
Another audience member told the supervisors he supported having Heartland Co-op build a facility in Jefferson County.
“Todd Phillips is a very knowledgeable grain manager,” he said. “They [Heartland Co-op] want to be here. Listen and work with them.”
Phillips, executive vice president of grain and risk management at Heartland Co-op, and CEO and general manager Tom Hauschel came to the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors meeting in mid-December and the Fairfield Community School District Board of Directors in mid-January to first discuss Heartland Co-op’s plans.
Phillips is a native of the Eldon area and has a small farm there.
The supervisors approved Monday hiring financial consultant Jeff Heil to work with the board on this project.
“I’ll invite Jeff to come here to a meeting and discuss it with us,” said Reed.
County engineer Scott Cline provided a letter he’d written on behalf of the county to Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad about Nutmeg Avenue’s one-lane railroad underpass and the bridge’s recent rating of 4 on a 0-9 scale.
The board of supervisors wants BNSF’s response about the railroad bridge/Nutmeg Avenue underpass in writing regarding any future upgrades or improvements.