City Council debates merits of establishing own enterprise zone

The City of Lebanon is looking into establishing its own enterprise zone within the city of Lebanon rather than re-applying with the members of the current South Santiam Enterprise Zone, which includes five other communities in Linn County.

The South Santiam Enterprise Zone is a rural enterprise zone that provides financial incentives to businesses to develop industrially designated land within the city’s urban growth area.

Enterprise zones are sponsored by city, port, county, or tribal governments, typically to serve as a focal point for local development efforts. According to Business Oregon, there are currently 69 enterprise zones in Oregon, 54 of them rural.

Businesses that locate or expand into an enterprise zone get property tax exemptions on the new plant and equipment for a period of time.

The current agreement, which expires on June 30, 2018, includes Albany, Lebanon, Millersburg, Tangent, Scio, Lyons and parts of Linn County.

Albany is now considered a metropolitan statistical area, so cannot re-apply as part of a rural enterprise zone.

Walt Wendolowski, community development director, presented the Lebanon City Council with three re-authorization options at the Feb. 14 council meeting.

The city could reapply with the current co-sponsors, a mix of different co-sponsors, or reapply without co-sponsors.

Under the current enterprise zone agreement, each participant needs to approve benefits to companies that benefit from the zone.

“It is interesting to note that of 33 decisions approving benefits to qualified businesses, only six affected property within Lebanon,” Wendolowski said. “In other words, 82 percent of all related zone decisions were for property outside our Urban Growth Area.”

If Lebanon applies without cosponsors, the process for businesses to gain approval, and access to incentives, would be streamlined since it would one require the approval of one body.

City Manager Gary Marks said he wants to continue to foster “an atmosphere of cooperation and working together with our neighbors.”

Marks said John Pascone, president of the Albany-Millersburg Economic Development Corporation and Linn County Commissioner Will Tucker expressed concerns about Lebanon leaving the South Santiam Enterprise Zone.

In a Jan. 25 letter, Pascone said AMEDC has provided support to Lebanon and the surrounding area for 20 years.

“These services have been provided at no cost to the city of Lebanon and without the need for any additional city staff,” Pascone said.

He said it came as a surprise to hear that Lebanon has not perceived AMEDC as a partner in its economic growth.

Pascone said AMEDC has worked on “projects such as Pace American Trailers, now LBCC, Advanced Automotive Training Center, Lebanon Lumber, Dave Smith Decoys and the Entek Enterprise Zone.

AMEDC and the City of Lebanon competed in their applications to develop a new transmodal loading facility.

“I want to advance the idea of cooperation between the jurisdictions,” Marks said. “It would help improve and strengthen our relationships so that when we end up with situations where we’re going to be competing, at least we’re competing with stronger relationships to start with. I think that would have helped with this last intermodal episode that we’ve been through.”

Councilor Floyd Fisher said he supported Lebanon applying on their own as long as “everyone can win in this.”

Mayor Paul Aziz agreed.

“We do want to have good neighbors; we do want to be good neighbors,” Aziz said.

Councilor Jason Bolen expressed concerns.

“I’ve never seen substantial benefit for the city from this,” he said. “I’m also bent on the intermodal and I don’t think we were done right by the AMEDC forces and I don’t think we were done right by Commissioner (Roger) Nyquist on that. I’m still a little sour on that. I think that the more we can do by ourselves the better.”

He added that he agrees with Aziz that they need to play nice with their neighbors, but said “sometimes nice guys finish last.”

Marks said that he and Wendolowki would update the council on a monthly basis as they work toward the application process.

Councilor Rebecca Grizzle said she wanted to make sure the other entities that would be affected by the decision would be notified.

Marks said they would be notified.

In other business, the council:

  • approved the city’s 2017 audit, which was conducted by Steve Tuchscherer;
  • approved a supplemental budget amendment to appropriate specific-purpose grants and donations that were not anticipated when the budget was approved related to the dog park and a new bus for Dial-a-Bus;
  • decided to set a work session to discuss reducing the speed limit to 20 mph on certain streets.