Kendallville gave away more than $100,000 in taxes on Tuesday night without so much as a word.
No discussion. No explanation. Motion, second, done, next item.
Kendallville was considering a new tax abatement request from Flint & Walling, seeking a break on $2.2 million in new equipment the company plans to add to its Oak Street plant.
The Kendallville Economic Development Advisory Committee recommended a 10-year tax break for the company, despite the project not meeting even half of the investment requirement to qualify for that length of benefit.
The city’s tax abatement guidelines state a project must exceed $5 million in investment to qualify for a 10-year tax break.
Flint & Walling’s new project didn’t even technically hit the threshold for a seven-year tax break, as companies must exceed $2.5 million to qualify for that term.
Two weeks ago, our editorial board advised the Kendallville City Council to follow its own guidelines and right-size the benefit to the project.
On Tuesday, council members didn’t do that.
Furthermore, they didn’t do much of anything when considering this new tax break except hit it with a rubber stamp.
After the city attorney read the proposed tax break into the record, board members moved to approve it, seconded and had no discussion before voting 4-0 to approve it. Council President Jim Dazey was absent from the meeting.
There were zero words exchanged about the tax break valued at more than $100,000 over the 10-year period, taxes that the city will now not collect to fund services to its citizens.
No questions about the project. No acknowledgment that it didn’t meet the criteria. Not even any happy talk to say “We really appreciate everything Flint & Walling does in the community.” Zero discussion. Zero words.
What that lack of engagement shows is that either A) That conversation happened outside of the public meeting sometime earlier, B) Council members don’t know or don’t understand their own tax break guidelines or C) They know, but simply chose not to follow them with no explanation as to why — all three of which speak to either poor transparency or poor governance.
Although the city can deviate from its guidelines if it chooses, the guidelines exist to serve as an objective measure for the city to follow and prevent its board members from playing favorites.
So while council members may have saved their voices approving this tax break, we expect they’ll have plenty of explaining to do the next time Company A and Company B come by wanting a 10-year tax benefit on a project that doesn’t qualify for it and wants to know why Flint & Walling can have it but they can’t.
Kendallville should follow its own guidelines for granting tax breaks.
But, failing that, the council should at least, at the bare minimum, take a minute to give an explanation to the public about why they’re choosing not to.
OUR VIEW is written on a rotating basis by Dave Kurtz, Grace Housholder, Michael Marturello and Steve Garbacz. Publisher Terry Housholder is also a member of the editorial board. We welcome readers’ comments.