Proposal to simplify county tax abatement process fails

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- A contentious discussion was held at the Saint Joseph County Council meeting Tuesday night about whether or not to completely overhaul the county's tax abatement process.

Tax abatements are meant to help developers by essentially forgiving a portion of property taxes on a new project.

St. Joseph County's abatement ordinances have been on the books for fifteen years.

Councilmembers Amy Drake and Joe Thomas's proposal to streamline the process failed a five to four after a vote.

Although most agree that it is time to revisit the sometimes-confusing application process, there were concerns about replacing the ordinances, including how quickly the proposal might have been put together and who was involved in it.

The proposal would have cut the current tax abatement application from a 15 plus page list of questions to a seven-page form, which petitioners argued would make things easier and less confusing.

They say some have had to hire lawyers to sift through and understand the county's application for abatements.

Councilmembers Drake and Thomas believe a streamlined application is more attractive for developers, and as they mentioned several times tonight during Tuesday night's meeting, it shows Saint Joseph County is open for business.

However, their proposal would have also removed the requirement for an affirmative action plan which encourages the hiring of minority contractors to work on projects getting tax breaks.

A local black contractor says it's already hard enough to earn local bids with these provisions, so much so, they're more focused on federal projects to procure jobs.

"It's just so hard for us, you think you've done everything that you can do and it's just another obstacle course that they set up for you just to compete, it's not leaving us any room as minority contractors to compete with our counterparts," says Katheryn Redding, Owner of Legacy Consulting and Renovation.

Since the bill failed, it can't be brought back up for discussion for six months and the affirmative action ordinance is still a part of the process.

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