Tabled tax application still a draft

By Joel Phelps
The Arkadelphian

An incentive application at least six months in the making will remain in its draft form for another month following much discussion Tuesday on whether to include the word “new” in the application.

The Economic Development Corp. of Clark County tabled its discussion following a plea from an attending citizen and talks among board members. A motion was brought to the floor to insert the word “new” to reflect language in several other places throughout the application. On the portion of the application where the EDCCC would calculate incentives is a line for would-be applicants to insert the number of employees. This particular portion does not suggest an applicant would include new employees, but there are other portions that specify new employees.

One section of the application draft does not indicate whether a business would create new jobs or retain its current workforce. Some residents fear adding “new” to the line would make it challenging for minorities to apply for tax incentives for their business. It was noted, however, that this is the only section within the application that does not specify “new” employees (see image below).

EDCCC chairman Kevin Jester said the proposal to include “new” to that portion was to reflect existing language throughout the document. Board member Lewis Shepherd, noting that commitments were made to “go out of our way” to help minority- and female-owned small businesses, questioned how the application would aid those businesses. Board member Wilma Gill said minority businesses “are looking at this based upon the printed word on the application. They’re looking at it as, ‘Oh they started out with these rules and now they’ve changed the rules.'”

Referring to the other portions of the application with the word “new” Jester said, “It’s plain that we’re talking about new employees.”

Attending citizen Martha Dixon, who was part of the committee that drafted the application, pleaded with the EDCCC to table discussion for another month. “This needs to be straightened out,” she said. “I don’t want Clark County to separate anymore than they already are. Please don’t let this happen. … It could explode. We don’t need that.”

CEO J.L. Griffin pointed out that the application was based on the one used for industries applying for incentives from the old tax money, with certain aspects like capital investments reduced to make the new tax money more accessible for small businesses. But, he noted, the EDCCC cannot simply give tax money away or specify a race to award incentives.

Noting the application has been in its draft form for at least six months, vice-chair Eric Hughes said it’s time to finalize the application so business owners could begin applying for incentives. Hughes said it was never his understanding that current employees would receive incentives except specifically for job retention.

Dixon said her plea for the board to table the discussion was to keep Clark County “out of national news.” Hughes said he didn’t understand how this would make national headlines. “It just might,” Dixon said, bluntly.

Board member Lori Ross said adding “new” to the application was not intended to exclude any would-be applicants. Jester agreed. “No part of it was there to attempt to exclude anyone,” he said. “The focus was to include more and more and more.”

Board member Celya Taylor later suggested that the application say “new” or “retaining” employees. Hughes seemed to agree with Taylor’s recommendation, adding the application should be revisited annually. It was noted in the meeting that there have been no applications submitted yet.

The motion to add “new” in the two places was withdrawn.

Later, the Rev. Johnny Harris addressed the board, thanking it for tabling the matter. Harris was on the agenda as a speaker. He said he had originally intended to “throw some people under the bus, because I know some stuff.” Harris also said changing the application’s wording would make it challenging for minority-owned businesses to apply, and hinted that altering the language would result in some sort of uprising in the black community. “We’ll bite,” Harris said. “That’s not a threat.”

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  1. I think Taylor’s proposal that it say “new” or “retaining” (perhaps implemented as “new or retained employees”) is a good compromise. I don’t know how the word “new” would exclude minorities, but if someone could explain that to me, please do. I would also love to know what Rev. Harris knows, perhaps it’s something the public should know about? BTW, it says “Statring Wage” when I believe it should say “Starting Wage.”

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