Fairmont School Board approves tax abatement for CHS

FAIRMONT — The Fairmont School Board on Tuesday approved a 10-year tax abatement for CHS Inc., which is planning a $100 million project at its existing plant in Fairmont.

Brandon Nordstrom, plant manager, was present to provide some information. He said the site employs 52 full-time employees and while no new positions will be created with the expansion, CHS estimates that more than $3.1 million will go to local contractors and materials for construction.

The project will include the addition of equipment that will allow the plant to run at a 30 percent faster rate.

Construction is expected to start this fall and be completed by 2021. The abatement will be for up to 10 years, beginning with real estate payable in 2022 and continuing through 2031, not to exceed $423,930.

County Assessor Mike Sheplee spoke about some misconceptions floating around the community about tax abatement. He explained that the cost to current taxpayers is a net zero.

“They’re going to spend $100 million, but there’s only about $5.3 million that’s real estate taxable,” Sheplee pointed out.

“To me, this is a pretty easy decision to make. I’m very glad that we have the opportunity to take a stand on this and take a vote,” said board member Nicole Green.

Both the city and county had previously unanimously approved the tax abatement, although the county added some conditions related to truck traffic and site privacy.

Moving to another matter, the school board approved the concept of a property tax abatement for future multi-family housing units.

Fairmont’s economic development director, Linsey Preuss, shared why the Fairmont Economic Development Authority would like to see such a program.

“Many of our businesses are actually looking at expanding, but because of the two major problems in our community — the lack of child care and the lack of housing — those are two hurdles that we want to remove as a barrier for these businesses,” Preuss said.

She provided board members with a packet that included several facts, including that the last apartment building was built in 1989 and had 34 units. Preuss conducted a vacancy survey in September 2016 and found that of 630 units, only 17 were vacant. In talking with business owners, Preuss found the consensus is that “nice” rental housing is lacking.

The abatement could go to any person or business that builds duplexes or multi-family complexes. 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.

Preuss pointed out that Fairmont has been seeing many single-family homes built so the city does not see the need for an incentive in that category.

Preuss said the Fairmont EDA has approved the abatement plan while Martin County has not yet approved it, as the county is weighing several things, including offering the program countywide.

Preuss said there are similar programs in Austin and Albert Lea that have been successful.

“I think it’s great, the incentive. We’re doing it for our businesses that want to expand,” said board member Julie Laue.

In other news, Superintendent Joe Brown shared that enrollment numbers are up by 20 students this year, with 843 students at the elementary school and 840 at the high school, putting the total at 1,683.

Some notable increases were in the seventh-grade class. Brown said the sixth-grade class ended with 132 students last school year. There are currently 152 seventh-grade students.

He also said they budgeted for 100 kindergarten students but there are 126. The school added another kindergarten teacher this year to take on the influx if students.

The board approved the following employments:

o Ariel Peymann as a full-time substitute at the high school for the 2019-20 school year at a rate of $125 per day.

o Jodi Kristenson as a curriculum consultant during the 2019-20 school year for up to 72 days at a salary not to exceed $28,940.

The board accepted the following donations:

o $1,040 from Culligan Water Conditioning for the high school special education department.

o $5,900 from the Martin County Area Foundation for the high school robotics program.

o $58 from Fairmont Evangelical Covenant Church for school supplies for children in need.

o $100 from Bowlmor Lanes for supplies for Fairmont Elementary School teachers.