Ellis court hears tax abatement proposal

Development in Midlothian’s RailPort expected to add $200M in assessed value

Bill Spinks
Waxahachie Daily Light
Kyle Kinateder, president and CEO of Midlothian Economic Development, speaks before the Ellis County Commissioners’ Court on a proposed tax abatement agreement with SunOpta Grains and Foods Inc. during Tuesday’s court meeting at the Ellis County Historic Courthouse. Also pictured (right) is Ross Benitz, a representative from the Grant Thornton LLC tax advisory firm.

Ellis County Commissioners saved their most impactful agenda item for the end on Tuesday afternoon during their regular bi-weekly meeting, as they conducted a public hearing on the county’s portion of a tax abatement for a major new industrial operation.

County Judge Todd Little said a vote on approval will be conducted during the Commissioners’ Court’s May 4 meeting. The Midlothian City Council was expected to conduct a similar hearing and a vote during its Tuesday night regular meeting.

The abatement would cover a tax investment reinvestment zone, or TIRZ, created recently by the city of Midlothian for an approximately 30-acre lot at the southeast corner of Power Way and Brookhollow Drive in the RailPort Business Park.

SunOpta Grains and Foods Inc. is the tenant applying for the abatement; the property is currently owned by TXI.

SunOpta, which is headquartered in suburban Minneapolis, is a global health food company that is centered around two business units, healthy beverages and fruit. The former would be the Midlothian plant’s focus, corporate representative Chris Whitehair told commissioners, with Phase I opening in 2022.

The improvements to be included in the tax abatement agreement generally consist of an approximately 400,000-square-foot building to be used primarily for manufacturing. The estimated costs of the improvements are $200 million.

Kyle Kinateder, president and CEO of Midlothian Economic Development, presented commissioners with an overview of the project. Kinateder said the purpose of the TIRZ is to create funding for infrastructure improvements to drive economic development.

Kinateder told commissioners the city, the county and the school district all participate in the TIRZ. He added that all future new value within the project will stay within the TIRZ through 2035.

The company’s future property tax increases will still be collected, Kinateder said, but instead of the money going into the county coffers, the money would go into a fund to pay for infrastructure improvements within the TIRZ.

Kinateder told commissioners there are three measurements that citizens can look at to decide whether the tax abatement is a good deal: full-time jobs, annual payroll and tax value.

“It is through this agreement that we lay out the specific things that we can rely on throughout that abatement contact period,” Kinateder said. “When we look at this, we want to ensure we are getting better than what would normally come to that location.”

All commissioners were present for Tuesday’s meeting except Precinct 2 Commissioner Lane Grayson.

Other items

• The court discussed the real estate transaction involving the classroom wing of the former First Baptist Church of Waxahachie. After an executive session at the end of the meeting, commissioners extended the option period to May 7 with an additional 30-day extension at Little’s discretion. This extra time will allow for intermediaries to work out details of the plat with the city of Waxahachie.

• The consent agenda was approved, consisting of approval of regular bills, various reports and previous minutes; interlocal work with the city of Palmer for street repairs; acceptance of $35.8 million in funds from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, about half of which will be paid on May 10; and several budgetary line item adjustments.

• The court approved a plat of a 24-acre property at the northeast corner of Ebenezer Road and Wilson Road in the extraterritorial jurisdiction of Palmer, and approved replats of both a 7.6-acre property at the intersection of Shawnee Road and Bells Chapel Road in the ETJ of Red Oak and a 5-acre property on the east side of Mohundro Road southeast of FM 780 near Ferris.

• A bid was awarded to AA Bigs Holdings, LLC dba A&A Repair for auto and heavy equipment repair. Separately, an exemption from bidding requirements was granted to the same company for repairs done while the bidding process was underway.

• The court approved a contract with AT&T and its election security partner, CyberDefenses, to implement recommendations from a 2019 election services assessment. The $60,492 cost will be funded through Help America Vote Act funding.

• A contract with Data Preservation Solutions LLC for the daily indexing of real property records and related services was approved in the amount of $9,472 per month, which will be funded from the County Clerk Record Management Fund.

• Commissioners retained counsel for the use of American Rescue Plan funds at a maximum cost of $75,000, and joined other counties in entering into an engagement agreement with The Beckham Group regarding federal court litigation in opposition to the proposed high-speed rail project through Ellis County.

• The court approved an amendment to the county’s 2005 order involving sexually oriented businesses. The amendment prohibits the establishment of additional sexually oriented businesses and establishes some new definitions and findings based on additional studies.

• Funding was approved in the total amount of $7,209 to repair air and heating units at the county jail to repair damage caused by February’s winter storm. The expenses will be submitted to emergency management to file with FEMA.

• A contract closure for the 2020 fiscal year between the Sheriff’s Department and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for patrol services at Lake Bardwell was approved.