News and notes from around town:
• When folks find out I cover Lawrence City Hall, a frequent question I receive (other than concerns about my mental state) is how much money is the city “giving away” to companies? Usually the question is in the context of tax abatements or some other form of economic development incentive.
Well, the city compiles such numbers annually, and its latest report is out. City commissioners at Tuesday’s meeting will approve the 2011 Tax Abatement and Economic Development Incentives Report.
Perhaps there are some numbers that will surprise you. Here’s a look:
— Five companies received a property tax abatement in 2011. The five companies received a grand total of $116,917 in property tax breaks. The companies paid a total of $973,173 in property taxes.
So, even though most of the companies were approved for a 50 percent tax abatement or greater, in total, the actual abatement was much less than that. It actually was about 10.7 percent in the aggregate.
How’s that possible? Well, when a tax abatement is approved, it is only for a specific project — such as a specific building expansion or a specific piece of equipment. That means, in many cases, the company still has property or equipment in Lawrence that is being taxed at the full 100 percent rate.
In case you are wondering, the $116,917 in property tax breaks amounted to 0.7 percent of the city’s total property taxes in 2011. For the year, the city collected $15.45 million in property taxes.
— The performance of companies that received tax abatements was a mixed bag. In summary, the five companies didn’t produce as many full-time jobs as they had projected, but the average wage per job was higher than projected. The companies, in total, projected to create 332 full-time jobs as a result of the tax abatements. In reality, 264 full-time jobs had been created at the end of 2011. The companies, though, did create 225 part-time jobs, well above the 11 that were projected.
On the wage front, the companies are paying more than they originally projected. At the end of 2011, the average full-time wage at the companies totaled $41,000. That’s about 9 percent higher than the $37,600 — which has been adjusted for inflation — that was projected by the companies.
The report also notes that at $41,000 per year, the average wage is about $12,000 higher than the average, full-time, private-sector wage in Lawrence.
Technically, because some companies did not meet their job projection totals, the city could consider adjusting the abatement amounts for some of the companies. But staff members are not recommending any such action. Instead, the report notes it appears some companies had legitimate reasons for switching to a more part-time oriented work strategy as they tried to “balance labor demand with recent recessionary pressures.”
— The performance of individual companies varied significantly. Here’s a look:
- Allen Press: Full-time positions projected: 13. Full-time positions created: 13. Average wage projected: $33,757. Average wage paid: $46,016.
- Amarr Garage Doors: Full-time positions projected: 80. Full-time positions created: 40. Average wages projected: $30,531. Average wages paid: $33,699.
- DST Systems: Full-time positions projected: 175. Full-time positions created: 122. Average wages projected: $51,812. Average wages paid: $39,388. DST also created 214 part-time positions, which weren’t projected as part of its tax abatement application.
- Prosoco: Full-time positions projected: 50. Full-time positions created: 62. Average wages projected: $28,446. Average wages paid: $45,152.
- Reuter Organ Co.: Full time positions projected: 14. Full-time positions created: 27. Average wages projected: $43,610. Average wages paid: $39,592.
— Two companies — Allen Press and DST Systems — had their tax abatements end in December, and are now on the tax rolls at 100 percent. At least one company is expected to join the tax abatement list in 2012. Grandstand Sportswear and Glassware was approved for a 65 percent tax abatement to facilitate its expansion from South Lawrence to East Hills Business Park.
— Tax abatements aren’t the only type of incentive City Hall offers these days. The city in 2008 created a special taxing district and a tax increment financing district for The Oread hotel project. The special 1 percent sales tax has generated $184,500 since 2009. The tax increment financing provision — which is a type of property tax and sales tax rebate to pay for parking and public infrastructure for the project — has rebated $782,973 to the development since 2009. In case your calculator is broken, The Oread has received $967,473 in tax rebates since 2009. The report doesn’t provide details of how much the project has received by year, but I believe it is safe to assume in 2011 The Oread project by itself received more tax breaks than all five of the industrial tax abatement projects combined.
The city also created a special taxing district for the Free State Transportation Development District at the northeast corner of Sixth and Wakarusa. The development — which includes the CVS, a Taco Bell and a few other businesses — charges a special 1 percent sales tax to pay for transportation-related projects at the development. Since 2009, the district — which is only about 25 percent built out — has received $81,490 from the special tax.
City commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall. They’re expected to approve the tax abatement and incentives report as part of their consent agenda.
• In case you have forgotten, tonight is the night the city’s Historic Resources Commission will consider the fate of a proposed multi-story hotel/retail building at the southeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets.
Well, at least, tonight is supposed to be the night. I would guess there is a pretty good chance the HRC won’t take a final vote on the controversial project proposed by Lawrence businessmen Doug Compton and Mike Treanor.
The East Lawrence Neighborhood Association, I believe, will lobby the HRC hard to delay a vote on the project. The association has taken an official position that it doesn’t yet have an opinion on the new plans because it hasn’t had enough time to review them since they were first presented publicly last week. Delay has never come difficult at City Hall, so who knows whether the HRC actually will produce much news tonight.
But the city’s historic resources staff has had enough time to review the project, and it is now recommending approval. The key issue has been whether the size and mass of the building is compatible with the historic neighborhood directly east of the site.
The new plans reduce the height of the building, and the city’s staff says it now meets the necessary guidelines to co-exist with the historic neighborhood.
Specifically, staff notes the HRC directed the developers to design a building more similar in size to the Lawrence Arts Center, which is directly south of the proposed site. The staff compares the two in several ways:
— The height of the Arts Center is 38 feet at its highest point. The proposed hotel/retail building is 63 feet at the corner of Ninth and New Hampshire, but is 40 feet tall along its edge closest to the neighborhood.
— The Arts Center is 206 feet long from north to south. The proposed hotel/retail building is 225 feet.
— The Arts Center is 115 feet from east to west. The proposed hotel/retail building is 116 feet.
But perhaps most interesting is that staff notes the proposed hotel/retail building has a large U-shape cut out of its backside — the portion facing the neighborhood. That U-shape houses a courtyard. Because of that U-shape, the staff report notes “the overall size and mass of the structure is less than the overall mass of the Arts Center.”
That may be a key selling point for the project, or it may create a question of why the project doesn’t reduce its height more and fill in the U. Of course, I’m not sure that would meet with the approval of neighbors of either.
We’ll see how it goes, but it appears the project is on much firmer political footing than it was a week ago. If the HRC rejects the plan, the City Commission could reverse the decision on appeal.
The HRC meets at 6:30 p.m. today at City Hall.