Mecklenburg County commissioners on Tuesday approved their portion of nearly $3.3 million in tax incentives for an expansion project by snack giant Frito-Lay, but not without some fireworks on the fairness of incentive grants.
The company plans to spend $74 million to expand an existing southwest Charlotte warehouse and distribution center, generating 30 to 35 jobs with an average $50,000 a year salary. Under the agreement with Mecklenburg and the city of Charlotte, Frito-Lay will be refunded 90 percent of the new property taxes it pays over five years until the total reaches $3.3 million.
Last month, the Charlotte City Council quickly approved $1.2 million of the business investment program grant’s total. Yet the 6-3 vote by commissioners wasn’t so swift. The board’s three Republicans – Jim Puckett, Bill James and Matthew Ridenhour – dissented.
Puckett argued that Frito-Lay is already in the county – “it’s not a company moving here” – and would remain without the grant, though the company said Charlotte is in competition with Richmond, Va., for the expansion.
He said Mecklenburg was giving up $2.1 million in property taxes over five years for only 35 jobs. “It will take 217 average houses to make up that property tax,” he said.
He said he’s concerned that approving the grant will make it “open season” for other companies asking for money and that approving the grant gives Frito-Lay an unfair advantage over its competitors.
James criticized the process. He said the board rejected the grant when it first came to a vote in closed session in January, but pressure was put on “the chairman (Trevor Fuller)” to bring the issue back for a second vote, when it passed. “I’m not saying that anything is untoward here,” James said. “It’s just unusual.”
Ridenhour said that allowing a second vote makes the board “look weak.”
Fuller endorsed the grant and the process. The past year, he said, only four incentive grants have been approved, “so it’s hard to say that represents the floodgates being open.”
He said if Frito-Lay’s competitors want to expand in Mecklenburg and feel they are eligible for the grants, “they are certainly welcome to come and ask.” Once the grant is up, Fuller said, “we have a property that is fully taxable … that we did not have before.”
Reval milestone reached
Commissioners also approved new values for about 7,200 parcels reviewed by Pearson’s Appraisal Services – the last value changes by the state-ordered review of Mecklenburg’s 2011 revaluation review.
For more than a year and a half, Tax Assessor Ken Joyner has delivered monthly reports to the board to approve new values recommended by Pearson’s. Tuesday’s report was included in consent items, so there was no discussion and no fanfare over the milestone.
“This is the 18th and final report to the board,” Joyner said. “Pearson’s has reviewed all the parcels and sent all values back to the board. At this point, any reductions or changes in value will be done through the appeals process.”