Commishes OK SunOpta tax break

New facility expected to add jobs, value to county by end of 2022

Bill Spinks
Waxahachie Daily Light
The Ellis County Historic Courthouse.

Mirroring what the Midlothian City Council approved a week ago, Ellis County Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a property tax abatement and performance agreement for SunOpta Grains and Foods Inc. for its planned new facility in Midlothian’s RailPort Business Park.

The Commissioners’ Court approved an 8-year tax abatement agreement with SunOpta that will begin at the end of 2022, when the proposed facility is expected to be complete. The abatement amount will be 65 percent for the first four years, and 55 percent for the next four years. The abatement will apply only to new taxable value and to real property; inventory will be taxed at the full rate.

As a school district, Midlothian ISD is prohibited by state law from entering into tax abatement agreements and will receive the full taxation amount.

The SunOpta abatement will be for a planned 275,000-square-foot food and beverage manufacturing facility on 30 acres in the RailPort Business Park. A future expansion to a total of 400,000 square feet is planned, making a total capital investment of more than $200 million, Midlothian Economic Development president and CEO Kyle Kinateder told the court.

If and when an expansion is completed, a second phase of the abatement would kick in, covering the added value for an additional eight years at an abatement rate of 70 percent.

The new facility is projected to employ 185 workers with an average of $58,000 per year. The performance agreement sets a minimum of 106 full-time jobs and an annual payroll of between $6.2 and $6.9 million in order to maintain the abatement.

All four commissioners and County Judge Todd Little were present.

Other items

• The court conducted a public hearing to discuss alcohol distance regulations in unincorporated areas. The minimum distance to a point of sale of alcohol is presently 300 feet from a church, school or hospital, but can be increased to 1,000 feet if the affected entity requested it. Following the hearing, the court agreed to keep the regulations in place.

• Mandatory county indigent health care payment rates for Fiscal Year 2021 were set at the maximum rate of 6 percent, pursuant to the Texas Health and Safety Code.

• An agreement with the BerryDunn firm was approved for preliminary planning for possible replacement of current justice and public safety software. The $48,000 amount will be funded through a cooperative contract. The county’s current software vendor contract expires in December 2022, purchasing agent E.J. Harbin said.

• A professional services agreement was tabled with the Kitchell HOK firm for assessing facility needs and long-range planning. Harbin said Kitchell was approved from among 14 firms on March 9. The matter will be revisited during the court session on May 18. The amount of the agreement is $317,000 for construction management services. Little said Ellis County will have an increasing need for facilities following voters’ Tier 2 approval, which requires municipal annexations to be voluntary.

• Judge Little issued a proclamation recognizing Thursday, May 6 as a National Day of Prayer in Ellis County.

• Consent agenda items included approval of previous minutes, acceptance of various reports, authorization of an $8,045 payment to Lone Star Events & Tents for a tent at the Ellis County Vaccination Hub, acceptance of $67,150 from the Tobacco Settlement Distribution Program, and budgetary line item transfers.

• Four plats were quickly approved for a 2.03-acre property on the west side of Bennett Road near Ennis, a 4.5-acre property on the west side of Bud Run Road near Forreston, an 11.352-acre tract on the north side of Neck Road near Ferris, and a 10-acre property on the west side of Dollie Road near Maypearl.

• Commissioners voted to accept a $235,727 performance bond for the proposed 17-lot Greystone Estates on the east side of Singleton Road near Waxahachie.

• The court approved the purchase of three Axon tasers and three Axon body cameras in an amount of $5,724 for Ellis County Constable Precinct 2.

• A 2021 Chevrolet 1500 crew cab pickup was leased in the amount of $49,587 for recently-appointed Precinct 2 Constable Casey Borders, with a down payment of $16,000. Additionally, a Motorola APX8500 All Band MP Radio and related equipment in the amount of $6,272, and three sets of protective gear and other safety equipment in the amount of $12,353 were approved for the Precinct 2 Constable’s office.

• The court approved an interlocal agreement with the city of Alma to perform a chip-seal surfacing of Toth Road and Blazek Road in the city at the total cost of $78,000.

• Officers were appointed to 2-year terms for the Ellis County Local Emergency Planning Committee effective as of April 13: Chairman — Tommy Jackson; Vice Chairman — William Stetson; Secretary / Treasurer — Hugh Grandstaff.

• The council went over the fiscal year 2021-2022 budget calendar. Little said budget workshops will be held in June, with a final workshop July 13 and final approval in August.

• Commissioners declared a number of listed items as surplus.