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Abatements a piece of puzzle

I gave it a rest for a couple of weeks, but the topic of the city’s tax abatement structure continues to be called into question.
And rightfully so. Short of an unhealthy obsession with city politics, doubting your public officials is a habit that made the United States what it is.

This sounds sick, but is the premise for why our system of government works better when people demand answers. We have three branches of government — judicial, executive and legislative. A fourth branch of checks and balances, albeit not government, lies in the freedoms of speech and press. Freedom of the press is not limited to newspaper people — anyone with the ability to distribute information to the masses is included — bloggers, and TV or radio stations fit into that category.

The press’ job for the past 200-plus years has been to doubt what we’re told. Used incorrectly, it can manifest itself into yellow journalism. It can also manifest itself into blogs and message boards full of misinformation and insinuation.

Despite all that, a healthy inquiry of what we’re told is what our nation is built upon. Questioning leads to accountability.
As a newspaper, it’s our job to make our public officials accountable for their actions.

This leads to an important issue that is affecting so many in these uncertain times. A growing number of people, with the prodding of us, doubt the way our city, school and county governments are run. Likewise, our public officials, people like you and me, don’t want all the heat.

It can be argued that they don’t deserve too much heat since most are unpaid, though often taking health insurance — not a light expense — in return. Others like are paid, but view their job like you do yours.

But once you have been put in a position of influence, you take the good with the bad.

As publisher of the newspaper, people I’ve never met criticize and vilify me. I meet people, introduce myself and they say, “I know who you are, you’re the guy who published …”

I take the good with the bad and there are so many good things about this job. On the other hand, nobody gets paid enough to be called certain things.

I know of a publisher in Mexico who was gunned down for publishing stories on exposing drug cartels.

It’s not fair, but he knew the possible detriment of telling the truth in a place like Northern Mexico.

Public officials also take their beatings, sometimes unfairly. Usually it’s about taxes.I teased earlier that I would clarify the city’s position on tax abatements. They haven’t released a statement on this and were never prompted to by me. Likewise, it’s not my job to be the city’s public relations firm — despite what some who can’t see the point in what we do think.

My job is to tell you what can and cannot be done.

The tax abatements the city sets up for industries are legal. Also, the money the city takes in to fund the site preparation, land giveaways, which didn’t happen in our most recent acquisition of Sysco, and other recruitment tools, are allowable, according to state law.

Here’s what the tax can be used for:

The tax provides cities with a wider range of uses for the tax revenues because it is intended to give communities an opportunity to undertake a project for quality of life improvements, including economic development that will attract and retain primary employers.

Before spending … 4B sales tax revenue, a corporation is required to hold at least one public hearing on the proposed project that will be funded by this tax.

According to the state, cities may use money raised by this sales tax for a wide variety of projects including land, buildings, equipment, facilities expenditures and improvements related to projects defined in Section 2 of the Act … or found by the board of directors to be required or suitable for use for:

• Professional and amateur sports (including children’s sports) and athletic facilities; tourism and entertainment facilities; convention and public park purposes and events, (including stadiums, ballparks, auditoriums, amphitheaters, concert halls, parks and open space improvements, museums, exhibition facilities);
• Related store, restaurant, concession, parking and transportation facilities;
• Related street, water and sewer facilities; and
• Affordable housing.
To promote and develop new and expanded business enterprises that create or retain primary jobs, a city may provide:
• Public safety facilities;
• Recycling facilities;
• Streets and roads;
• Drainage and related improvements;
• Demolition of existing structures;
• General municipally owned improvements;
• Maintenance and operating costs associated with projects; and
• any other project that the board determines will contribute to the promotion or development of new or expanded business enterprises that create or retain primary jobs.

Based on my interpretation of the purpose behind the sales tax for the Economic Development Corporation, all of the funds have been used in a manner that allows the city the most growth.

I don’t like our industrial workers living in Red Oak, Corsicana or Waxahachie rather than Ennis, Garrett or Palmer, but I do like that they buy their lunch here and pay for their gas here.

We have to use our creative marketing talents to entice people to live here.

It is counterproductive to require employees to live here in order to qualify for a tax incentive. Let’s dangle the bait out there and maybe it’ll pay off. If not, not much is lost except for a few tax dollars that are made up for in the benefits of the program as a whole — all the industries we boast in town right now.

The program is working. If not for that, Ennis would be struggling even more with our housing, retail and restaurant concerns we currently have.

Tre Bischof is publisher of the Ennis Daily News and can be reached by sending e-mail to tre@ennisdailynews.com.

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Posted by on Aug 29 2010. Filed under Editorials. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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