Saying no

By Neal McNamara

A Councilman pledging to vote against tax abatements barring more transparency is told his intentions are “dangerous.”

Lansing First Ward Councilman Eric Hewitt declared at Monday night’s Council meeting that he would no longer vote in favor of any projects coming from the city Economic Development Corp. that included tax abatements until more transparency is provided on how well the abatements are working.

“Because there has been no concerted effort at (transparency), I will not be supporting any Economic Development Corp. project,” he said during a portion of the meeting in which the EDC’s CEO, Bob Trezise, was on hand to answer questions about an industrial facilities tax exemption certificate being sought by Jet Engineering Inc.

Hewitt said that his declaration was not aimed at any particular developer, but at the EDC. Hewitt said that he has been asking for reports from the EDC on the success of tax abatements for two years.

“Your EDC has done more report ing, more monitoring than any other local economic development agency in the state,” Trezise said. “To demand more reporting, Ill listen, but to not proceed with the work of creating jobs in the city because of this position — I would just urge you to reconsider.”

Trezise said he was “slightly frustrated” with Hewitt’s remarks and asserted that Hewitt had not been asking for more reporting on abatements for two years, only since this year’s budget process.

As Council proceeded to vote on the Jet Engineering Inc. abatement and the setting of a public hearing for the same kind of abatement being sought by Demmer Corp., Hewitt duly voted “no” on both. Hewitt was the only no vote.

Hewitt’s declaration touched off a long series of statements by each Council member on their feelings toward tax abatements and the work of the EDC.

At-Large Councilwoman Kathie Dunbar said that it is “dangerous” for Hewitt to come out with such a stance and said that she hoped he would reconsider.

At-Large Councilman Brian Jeffries, who chairs the Council Committee on Development and Planning, said that the Jet Engineering abatement is worth around $150,000. But, the city would also get $150,000 because the abatement would be for only 50 percent of personal property taxes. Jeffries said the company has also pledged to add 37 news jobs, adding income tax, and restore the jobs of upward of 50 employees it laid off several weeks ago.

After the meeting, Hewitt furthered his remarks, saying that he was worried about the losses that schools and other taxing entities were feeling because of abatements. Hewitt said he would explore the reporting the EDC has done — there are spreadsheets listing the status and amount of abatement of projects from the last three years on its Web site — to the Development and Planning Committee to determine if that data satisfies the information he wants.

“Until I know that that data is being given to us, I will continue to say ‘no’ to them,” he said.