Douglas County commissioners said they weren’t ready to set any kind of policies on who should receive tax abatements — even as they prepare for a request from Berry Plastics.
Douglas County hasn’t granted a property tax abatement in over three decades. But that could change within the next month as Berry Plastics is expected to request a 10-year property tax abatement for a $21 million warehouse project.
A development group headed by Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel has submitted plans to rezone 60 acres west of the Lecompton turnpike interchange to allow for a 600,000-square-foot warehouse. If approved, the facility is expected to be the largest building in the county. It would not be on the city of Lawrence’s tax rolls.
No formal request has been made by Berry Plastics, but Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug told the commissioners Wednesday night that they need to start considering what alternatives they would have to process such a request.
The county did not discuss what percentage of taxes would be abated or what conditions would fall under the abatement.
By not having a policy in place, the county can’t offer a constitutional tax abatement and could only provide a tax abatement if industrial revenue bonds were issued.
Roger Zalneraitis, economic development coordinator and planner for the city of Lawrence, said using industrial revenue bonds takes more time and comes with higher costs.
Historically Douglas County has avoided having a policy in place because it didn’t want to encourage industrial growth outside the city limits. That philosophy could be changing.
Commissioners agreed that they might want to have a tax abatement policy in place, but they didn’t think they would have the time to create one before Berry Plastics made its request.
The company has been awarded federal stimulus bonds to help finance the warehouse, but the project needs to be progressing by the end of the year for the company to keep those low-interest bonds.
“Adopting a significant comprehensive policy sends a signal to the world. This needs more time, more study than we could give it,” Commissioner Jim Flory said.