GONZALES — The Ascension Parish Council on Thursday approved the maximum industrial property tax exemptions — at 100 percent for five years, then at 80 percent for three years — to four projects in the parish, after hearing from a number of speakers, both for and against the exemptions.

The projects, which were not identified but instead were given code names by the Ascension Economic Development Corp. of Magnolia, Zinnia, Bagel and Sunflower/Sunflower Seed, had earlier this month won a recommendation for the exemptions from the council's Finance Committee, a committee of all of the council members.

However, under an executive order by Gov. John Bel Edwards in June, the Ascension Parish sheriff and the Ascension Parish School Board must also approve granting the tax exemptions. If all agree to grant the exemptions to the four projects, it will mean a loss of about $48 million in tax revenue over eight years that would be split among the taxing bodies. 

The proposal on the same projects didn't make it out of the School Board's Budget Committee on Tuesday for a full vote before the board. The committee will be taking the issue up again on Oct. 17.

If all of the major taxing bodies of a parish approve industrial property tax exemptions, the requests then go to the state Board of Commerce and Industry and the governor for approval.

Residents have complained at the council and School Board meetings about the use of code names for the projects.

Under new rules for the tax exemption requests, it says that companies seeking exemptions must request them in writing from the local major taxing bodies, then send the requests to the Louisiana Economic Development office, which must post the requests on its website in three business days, Broderick Bagert of Together Louisiana said earlier this week. 

It's unclear whether the new rules require the companies to identify themselves.

Together Louisiana has become a vocal critic of the way such requests are being handled in Ascension Parish now that local taxing bodies have the authority to grant the exemptions.

There is a link called "Fast Lane" that appears on the Louisiana Economic Development's website which is described as "the system that manages Louisiana's business incentive programs." However, the public is unable to access it.

The projects seeking the property tax exemptions in Ascension Parish, as described by the Ascension Economic Development Corp., are:

— Project Magnolia: A business seeking to build and operate a new plant in Geismar to supply an existing business via pipeline. The $145 million project would create seven new permanent jobs.

— Project Zinnia: A "first-of-a-kind in the world" demonstration plant, AEDC says, with breakthrough technology. The $25 million project would create two new permanent jobs.

— Project Bagel: A major employer looking to expand chemical capabilities. The $125 million project would create 15 new permanent jobs.

— Project Sunflower/Seed, a project that involves two companies, one a chemical producer, that would be "critically important for positioning them to be more competitive now and for years to come." The $167 million project would create eight new permanent jobs.

Up until this summer, industrial tax exemptions had been automatically approved on the state level, at a rate of 100 percent, for two, five-year terms.

Together Louisiana has advocated in recent weeks that local governing bodies put standing policies in place that would be applicable to any request by a manufacturer that requests a property tax exemption.

Currently in Ascension Parish, the requests are being considered on a per-request basis. 

The governor's executive order in June says that "under past practices ... there have been no job creation or capital investment thresholds required for eligibility of the program."  

Now the executive order says that exemption contracts for additions to any existing plant or establishment "are not favored by the governor unless they provide for new jobs or present compelling reasons for the retention of existing jobs."  

Ron Whitmer of the newly formed Together Ascension was one of those who spoke against the exemptions Thursday.

"These companies are requesting millions in public subsidies. And they are being asked to meet no standards whatsoever," Whitmer said.

One of several speaking in favor of the exemptions was Ascension Parish resident Sheila Hidalgo.

"I know in this parish we enjoy life" in large part because of the "diversity of manufacturers," she said.

"Not to mention the sales and use taxes" they bring and the "trickle down effect of people spending money in stores and restaurants," Hidalgo said. 

Follow Ellyn Couvillion on Twitter, @EllynCouvillion.