Housing, child care spotlighted in Fairmont

FAIRMONT — The Fairmont Economic Development Authority earlier this week focused on two areas vital to the local workforce — housing and child care.

The group also tackled a tax abatement request by CHS, which is planning a $100 million project locally.

Linsey Preuss, economic development director, proposed recommending to the City Council a property tax abatement program for people who build multi-family housing in the city. The owners would still pay property taxes on the existing lot, but payment of taxes on new construction would be delayed for a specified number of years.

“Our goal is to try to get folks to build multi-family housing, whether it’s duplexes or apartment buildings,” she said.

Preuss said Worthington, Albert Lea and Austin have similar programs that have been successful. Martin County and the Fairmont Area School District also would have to agree to the abatement.

Tom Hawkins, City Council liaison to FEDA, suggested restricting the incentives to construction in certain areas of Fairmont, specifically downtown. He also advocated that the program be scrutinized by the Fairmont Planning Commission to ensure it fits with the city’s comprehensive land use plan.

Mike Wubbena suggested including incentives for existing multi-family housing to upgrade.

“Can you make it more comprehensive?” he said.

“Workforce housing is the greatest need,” said Amy Long.

FEDA members voted unanimously to support a tax abatement program for multi-family housing and advanced it to the council, planning commission and the comprehensive land use committee for more discussion.

In the ongoing effort to retain existing child care providers and entice new ones, Preuss reported that Profinium Financial has agreed to provide funding to bring training here for local providers. Previously, child care providers had to travel out of town on evenings or weekends to obtain the education and training required for licensing.

“This is a huge win for us because we have never had this available locally before,” Preuss noted.

In another matter, she introduced the request from CHS for a 10-year tax abatement on a $100 million construction project at the Fairmont plant and asked FEDA to request that the City Council set a public hearing on the proposal.

CHS currently pays about $673,000 per year in property taxes. The abatement would defer any tax increase due to construction until 2032, when the tax bill would be about $903,000 per year.

“This will not cause taxes to go up for anybody else in the city,” Preuss said.

Hawkins said the project will increase the property value by only $5.3 million because most of the investment cost will be in equipment.

Wubbena pointed out that the expanded production capabilities will benefit area farmers by increasing the amount of soybeans the plant is able to crush and process into meal for area livestock producers.

Preuss said CHS will have representatives at all three jurisdictions — the county, city and school board — for the public hearings. (On Monday, the City Council set a public hearing on the abatement request for 5:30 p.m. Aug. 26).