East Baton Rouge Parish Metro Councilman LaMont Cole wants his colleagues to consider inserting hiring benchmarks into a set of proposed guidelines the governing body would use while weighing whether it will grant multimillion-dollar tax breaks to job-producing industries.
Cole believes any company seeking a tax break through the state's Industrial Tax Exemption Program should create at least 25 permanent full-time jobs or 15 percent of the company's "pre-project baseline" employment level to qualify. The Industrial Tax Exemption Program is designed to give manufacturers a temporary break on their property taxes while setting up new capital expenditures.
The councilman's recommendation was included in a draft of proposed guidelines Cole released Thursday. The full proposal is available here.
"I think this addresses a range of concerns I've had and the areas that are important to me, like jobs," Cole said. "These guidelines are to let businesses know what our expectations are."
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Cole's tweaks, made to guidelines he deferred at the council's meeting last month to give the public more time for a review, also include a stipulation which says the Metro Council won't give tax breaks to companies seeking them for projects already completed, for capital expenditures deemed routine, or for projects not in danger of going elsewhere.
Councilman Matt Watson, who's been working with Cole behind the scenes on the guidelines, on Thursday objected to the suggestion that council members couldn't approve a tax break for a project that is already done.
"A company has to wait until it has the actual receipts from the money it spent on capital projects to know how much their exemptions would be," Watson said.
Cole said the restriction is intended to prevent companies from receiving tax breaks "after the fact," and not geared toward projects that are new to the ITEP-vetting process.
Watson had backed the set of proposed guidelines the council tabled last month. Those were met with criticism from faith-based Together Baton Rouge, whose members have been outspoken critics of the state's tax break program.
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TBR said the earlier version of the guidelines were so broad the Metro Council would essentially rubber stamp any ITEP request without any stringent rules that could hold companies accountable for promises they might make about a project's economic benefit to the community.
The Watson-backed stipulations also didn't include specific numbers for job creation nor the restrictions on already completed projects.
The original set of guidelines also stated that, if a company didn't create new jobs, it could still gain ITEP approval from the Metro Council if it assured city-parish leaders that during the 10 years of the tax break they wouldn't close or relocate the site to another parish or state, or if they could give the parish a "substantive competitive advantage" or provide some environmental benefit.
Cole's recommendations includes mostly the same provisions.
"LaMont went to Together Baton Rouge and they made a lot of changes," Watson said Thursday. "These were changes that were forced upon him; these are things I cannot support."
Cole is expecting a lively discussion about his proposed guidelines at next week's Metro Council meeting, when the item will be up for a public hearing and possible adoption.
"At a minimum, companies seeking to open up shop or expand here should have certain goals — and one should be that they put people back to work," he said.
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