LIVINGSTON – A Livingston Parish School Board committee voted 3-1 on Tuesday to recommend the full board approve a Denham Springs business request to be part of the state Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP).
The Budget/Goals Committee vote came after almost two hours of discussion on Gator Millworks’ request, which would mean a return of some taxes paid on the construction of its new facility on Florida Boulevard.
Committee members Buddy Mincey Jr., Jan Benton and Jeff Cox voted yes. Brad Sharp cast the lone no vote.
Livingston Parish Assessor Jeff Taylor questioned the cost versus benefits during the 10-year period when 80 percent of the taxes are exempt.
“Eighty percent of your budget comes from the state so everything we give up here, it hurts,” Taylor said.
Taylor said using the numbers provided by Gator Millworks, during the 10 years the tax exemption is in place, the School Board would receive $474,000.
“In that same 10-year, you give up $727,896,” he said.
“We have a difference of philosophy,” the assessor said later in the meeting.
“I have to look at it as losing $727,000.
“I’ve been doing this for 19 years,” Taylor said about being an assessor. “The project is not a situation where we’re saying we don’t want your ITEP. We’re saying the numbers don’t work.”
“Don’t take any of our examinations and questions as a condemnation of the application or the company,” said Devin Gregoire, one of three other board members who attended the meeting and joined in the discussions.
“We have to do our due diligence,” he said.
“I have to make a decision not based on the numbers but on who you are in the parish and how your business affects the parish.”
Taylor also said he was not against Gator Millworks’ application.
“I’m for ITEPS. I love ITEPS,” the assessor said. “I think they work. I don’t think they work all of the time.”
“I’m not against any ITEP program, but we have to look at this as a return on investment,” Gregoire said. “Our return is 80 percent. I give you 10 years, but if we don’t see that zero out after 10 years it’s not a good investment.”
“You can call it loss revenue, you can call it whatever, we’re making an investment in Gator Millworks for 10 years.”
“In this situation, it’s located in Livingston Parish and has been,” Gregoire said. “If we don’t give him this exemption, he still going to operate in Livingston Parish.
“This is not a lose-this-vendor situation. That’s not a reason to deny it, but you’re talking circles around things and this specific incident.”
The discussion could continue at Thursday’s scheduled School Board meeting, when the committee will submit its report and the full board will vote.
The Livingston Economic Development Council (LEDC) president, David Bennett, was the first speaker, describing Gator Millworks and the impact of its expansion.
Gator Millworks, which moved to Denham Springs in 1994, employs more than 40 people and has an annual payroll of $2.3 million, Bennett said.
It is investing $6.9 million into the facility, which will create 45 construction jobs with a $2.1 million payroll.
The company will add five new employees with an average salary of $50,000.
Later in the meeting, it was revealed that Gator Millworks had already hired 10 new employees.
“We manufacture our own materials,” said Chad Foster, president of Gator Millworks, whose father founded the business. “We take raw wood and make into molding and process everything in house as a rule.”
Twenty percent of Gator Millworks’ business is done inside Livingston Parish, he said, with the rest outside the parish.
Bennett called this bringing “outside dollars” into Livingston Parish.
Louisiana Economic Development has reviewed the ITEP application and the Board of Commerce and Industry has approved it, Bennett said. The LEDC board of directors also provided a letter of recommendation.
Sheriff Jason Ard, who attended the meeting, told the committee that he has approved the request. The Livingston Parish Council still has to consider the company’s request.
“I believe it will bring a lot more than what is shown here,” Ard said. “I think they will do good for the parish. They are already doing good for the parish.”
School Board member Cox, who made the motion to recommend approval, recounted his own family’s growth of a supermarket in Walker.
With each expansion, “The money came. All the money we put into it was not for naught,” Cox said. “I have a feeling that will happen here.”
Bennett said ITEP was put in place to encourage businesses to invest and expand and put money into facilities and create new facilities.
“Manufacturing is good for the economy. It pays higher wages and is a market multiplier,” Bennett said.
The five new jobs Gator Millworks will create four indirect jobs, he said.
“Companies investing in Livingston Parish are more likely to stay here,” he said.
“We don’t want them looking elsewhere. We’re in competition with parishes to the east of us, parishes to the west of us.”
Tax credit consultant Robert Williams, who attended the meeting with Bennett, told the committee how the ITEP application is handled could have far-reaching effects
“Your decision today is going to set a precedent for Livignston Parish. It creates a different business climate for those looking to invest in parishes and states. The decision you make tonight not only affects Gator, but Livingston Parish for many years to come.”
“It seems like Mr. Taylor wants to be friendly to outside business and not to businesses in the parish,” William said.
This prompted the assessor to return to the podium.
“I am not doing that. I am absolutely 100 percent behind ITEP when they work,” Taylor said. “I’m not any more interested in outside businesses. I support our parish.”