Abatements hot topic after County Judge speaks against it

Published 10:02 am Saturday, March 9, 2019

Dawn Burleigh

The Orange Leader


Orange County Judge Dean Crooks has had everyone talking about abatements after releasing his ‘Stance on Economic Development’ on Monday.

By Wednesday, every conversation turned into a discussion of economic development and tax abatements.

“This is a critical time for us,” Orange County Commissioner Pct. 3 John Gothia said Thursday morning at the Greater Orange Area Chamber of Commerce Breakfast Connection held at the new First Financial Bank on 16th Street. “I support abatements and the EDC 100-percent. I will do all I can do to bring industry and business to town.”

EDC is the Orange County Economic Development Corporation.

Gothia explained to grow the revenue base, people have been working diligently to bring businesses here.

“Orange County is open for business and open doors for businesses,” Gothia said. “To grow the county, city, we have to bring more people in the doors which brings more jobs.”

He also thanked First Financial Bank for having the security to build a new headquarters in Orange for its branches.

“I encourage everyone to attend Commissioners Court on Wednesday to send a message to the court and to companies looking to locate here,” Gothia said. “You have three minutes during Citizen Comments to say your peace.”

Orange County Commissioners Court meets at 10 a.m. Wednesday, March 13 in the County Administration Building located at 123 6th Street in Orange.

Crooks had stated the county does not have a Rain Day Fund. Gothia addressed the issue as well.

“There is no Rainy Day Fund,” Gothia said. “The money is in the General Operating Fund and moved in the case of a disaster. Harvey took a toll, yes. But we had a good reserve fund.”

The county paid $8million for debris removal after the storm.

“We have to pay those guys now, not when FEMA reimburses us the money,” Gothia said. “We have gotten all but $3.8 million back from FEMA. That is due to our people doing the paperwork. In fact, we were one of the first to receive a reimbursement.”

Just a week early, the judge had stated during a luncheon that the county was in good shape and moving forward and had received $12 million in reimbursement from FEMA.

Dean Granger of Granger Chevrolet asked Gothia, “Wouldn’t it help if something big came to Orange?”

“Yes,” Gothia said. “If you own a home, you own a business. You have to raise revenue to cover your expenses. For a county, there are two ways to raise revenue – raise taxes or grow the tax base.”

Orange County Economic Development Director Jessica Hill also thanked First Financial Bank for investing in the community.

“Economic Development is more than abatements,” Hill said. “It is identifying programs to bring industry to the community. If you have driven through Baytown, you can see what support can do.”

Citizens also spoke in support of tax abatements, while others apologized for supporting Crooks.

This will be the largest economic development in Orange County in 60+ years. Every person and business in our county would reap some type of benefit from this project. The amount of sales tax revenue generated alone would be an incredible economic boost,” Patrick Rainey posted on Facebook. “I firmly believe that our county court should offer the maximum amount of tax abatement allowed by law to entice this expansion. I also believe that our county court should give their full backing to the EDC that is working to help finalize this deal. Further, I think it should be endorsed by each incorporated entity in our county.”

“As a former supporter of Dean Crooks, I’d like to sincerely apologize to some people in Orange. First, to the past 20 years of our local school boards, commissioners, judges, and city councils,” another citizen posted. “The picture painted on the morning news broadcast have shown you all as “stupid or ignorant” to economics which couldn’t be further from the truth. We’ve all had our ups and downs but the decisions made by our civic leaders have always minimized the downs and expanded the ups to longer periods. To the business leaders that were targeted as extortionists, exploiting our community leadership, I offer my apologies. Please remember that this is one man pointing a dissenting finger and his positions do not reflect those of the citizens that are proud to share Orange with you. To the refineries and terminals that have made a home in Orange, we’re grateful for the things you do. You’ve brought numerous jobs to our little patch of Texas.”

Kirk Roccaforte posted “I think the real question here is being this years budget is complete and the EDC is funded for the year with the support of all stakeholders (entities), the deals to date already in place, why or what is the judges motive to create this negative and very controversial and misleading media blast.”

Orange County Commissioner Pct. 1 Johnny Trahan posted:

In Chevron’s case, the roughly 1700 acres will lose the ag exemption immediately. This amount will not be abated because it existed prior to the project. Then there will be inventory taxes to be paid. Then those construction employees will need a place to eat, live, buy gas, and buy food. So those local stores (grocery, gas, hardware, clothing, feed, automobiles, and restaurants) will sell more. That means more sales tax and more employees who will also buy more goods in town. New businesses will locate to serve it and those already here will expand. Eventually, the plant will be operational and those permanent employees will build homes and move into town and put their children into schools. With more rooftops, we will attract more retail once they have a larger market. To close the deal we will need to offer some abatement for some period. Why offer an abatement you ask because almost every entity offers one and we have to compete. When the abatement expires taxes will be collected for years to come. In the case of most of chemical row, for 50-70 years to come. It simply would be a game changer for Orange County! For someone who was born and raised here and has grandchildren living here this is important to me.

Trahan said he approves of abatements as a tool.

“We have to, every entity is using abatements,” Trahan said in an interview. “To not, then puts us at a disadvantage.”

Trahan added the project is huge for the area.

“It is the biggest thing in 80 years, since Dupont,” Trahan said. “I am more than willing to abate to bring it here.”

Trahan also confirmed the county did not have a Rainy Day Fund.

“We never had a Rainy Day Fund,” Trahan said. “It came from the General Fund.”

Despite the negativity, Trahan believes the best days are ahead for the county.

“We will see growth,” Trahan said. “There will be new businesses because of Chevron. There will be more people which will bring more retail because we will have enough rooftops.”

Orange County Commissioner Pct. 4 Robert Viator Jr. is on the EDC Board.

“I support the EDC to have the tools it needs and to be successful to accomplish the job.”

Being on the board for the EDC, he said the board evaluates everything before it goes before the court.

County Judge Dean Crooks is also on the board.

“We decide if it is a good deal for the county,” Viator said.

Viator added he would do whatever it takes to bring Chevron to Orange County.

Viator pointed out the abatements with Jefferson Energies and the positive effect it has had on the west side of the county.

“It pays over $1 million per year to the school district,” Viator said. “One company which is a subcontractor does fabrication. Before Jefferson Energies, it was 7,000 square feet and is on the tax row $23,000 in value. Now it is 48,000 square feet and on the tax row $415,000 in value. Ninety percent of the employees live in Orange County.”
Viator added Chevron is the biggest economic boom in the county in 30-40 years with a $5 billion investment.

“I don’t want to ruin our chance,” Viator said. “Not for us, but for our kids and grandkids futures.”