County Council Cuts Louis Dreyfus Tax Abatement In Half

Kosciusko County Justice Building. (Photo: Nick Deranek/News Now Warsaw)

Kimberly Cates returned to the Kosciusko County Council for the Thursday meeting. Cates was selected by caucus vote June 7 to replace Doug Heinisch, who resigned in May. Cates was an at-large representative who was defeated in the 2020 election. She now represents District 1, which includes Turkey Creek and Tippecanoe townships, the eastern part of Plain Township and a little more than half of the northern half of Washington Township.

Ernie Wiggins, Mike Long, Jon Garber, Joni Truex, Sue Ann Mitchell, Kathy Groninger and Cates heard from the following individuals requesting budget amounts for consideration later this year:

• Matt Meersman of the St. Joseph River Basin requested $3,705, the same amount as last year.

• Jerry Frush and Greg Steffe of the Kosciusko County Historical Society, $25,000.

• Gary Ostrom of 4-H Council, along with youth agent Andrew Ferrell and two 4-H Junior Leaders, requested $44,347 for 2021, the same amount as last year.

• Matt Boren appeared for Cardinal Services asking for $104,980, an increase of $3,000 for 2022.

• Glenn Hall, Kosciusko Home Care & Hospice, $50,000 for 2022, a $980 increase.

• Jennifer Hayes, The Beaman Home,  $40,000 the same as last year.

• David Neff, Kosciusko Community Senior Services, $40,000.

Jennifer Day, of the county assessor’s office, presented three personal property tax abatement renewals for Louis Dreyfus Company Agricultural Industries from 2016, 2017 and 2019 and a real property tax abatement renewal for approval. The 2019 abatement included logistics and internet technology equipment, which was not on the original resolution, and these items were excluded, and otherwise approved by six Council members with Groninger abstaining from the vote.

Steve Snyder, Louis Dreyfus lawyer, appeared requesting a confirmatory resolution for a 10-year real property tax abatement for $18 million and a five-year personal property abatement for $12 million.

Jeremy Mullins, of Louis Dreyfus, talked about the company and their recent successes at the Claypool facility.

Eleven citizens spoke for approval of the abatements representing business owners, farmers and employees. Truex also supported the proposals, saying the County Redevelopment Commission voted unanimously in support.

Farmer Bob Bishop, of Leesburg, spoke against the tax abatements, saying the projects are going to go on at the Louis Dreyfus facility regardless of a tax cut scale and the money should be used to build county infrastructure.

When the public hearing closed, the Council members had questions. Long wanted to make sure this project wasn’t the same as the one turned down in November 2020. Snyder answered that it was not and nothing had been started except some engineering concepts.

Wiggins said he heard that the company wasn’t a good corporate neighbor to nearby Claypool, but expected the firefighters to respond to any trouble. Mullins was surprised by that, saying he wasn’t prepared with any numbers, but the firefighters used the facility for training and received equipment from Louis Dreyfus. In “normal” years, the company welcomes busloads of students for field trips and makes regular contributions to Claypool Elementary School. The Dreyfus employees gave several more examples of local support.

When the full tax abatement time and amounts failed for lack of a second, Councilwoman Sue Ann Mitchell proposed a five-year real property abatement for half the amount, or $9 million, and a three-year personal property abatement also for half the amount, or $6 million.

Wiggins, Mitchell, Cates and Garber voted for the reduced abatement; Long and Truex voted nay; and Groninger abstained from the vote and the resolutions passed 4-2-1.

In other business:

• The reappointment of Warsaw Community Public Library board member Ben Rice was approved. His next term expires June 30, 2025.

• Barry Andrew, Community Corrections director, received permission to apply for two grants applicable in 2022:  drug court for $74,000 and home detention for $352,749.

• Truex, the County Redevelopment Commission vice president, requested an additional appropriation of $600,000 from the VanBuren TIF for infrastructure and major improvements to the overpass, which was approved.

• County Administrator Marsha McSherry requested an additional appropriation of $500 from the county general fund using CARES Act funds for a wage reimbursement.

• McSherry’s request for transfers of $27,051.70 from consulting, copy machines and inmates in institutions to property liability insurance to cover increases was approved.

• Soil & Water Director Darci Zolman  requested an additional appropriation from the county general fund to support a conservation program technician in the amount of $580, which was approved.

• Sheriff Kyle Dukes’ request to pull $7,500 from the Department of Natural Resources 2021 state grant was approved. These funds will pay salaries, $5,000, and miscellaneous expenses, $2,500.

• Auditor Michelle Puckett said encumbrances for May were $399.

• The County Commissioners and Council will hold a joint financial meeting June 24 at 11 a.m.

The Council’s next regular meeting is July 8 at 6 p.m. in the old courtroom.