Roane to seek more equitable part in Plateau Park tax funds

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By Damon Lawrence

Partnerships are OK, Roane County Executive Ron Woody said, “as long as they are equal.”

Woody doesn’t see equality when he looks at Plateau Partnership Park, an industrial park venture between Cumberland, Morgan and Roane counties.

“We didn’t do a good job of negotiating, it looks like,” Woody said.

Each county borrowed $2.5 million for the industrial park project. The land is in Cumberland and Morgan counties. None of it is in Roane County.

Woody said the agreement calls for the counties to share the property tax revenue until 2027.

“If everybody is funding it the same, everybody should share the property tax revenue indefinitely the same,” he said. 

“That would have made a lot more sense.”

Roane County may not see any return on its investment with the present deal in place.

Seven years have gone by, and the park still sits empty.  Any industry that does decide to locate in the park is likely to receive a property tax abatement deal, which is common in industrial recruitment. 

Volkswagen, for example, got a 10-year property tax abatement as part of its deal to locate a distribution center in the Roane Regional Business and Technology Park.

Woody said the industrial board that oversees Plateau Partnership Park has discussed offering a tax abatement of 10 to 15 years to entice industry.

“That would put us out of the equation of getting anything,” Woody said.

Mike Farmer was Roane County executive when the Plateau Partnership Park deal was put in place. 

Farmer’s signature is on the Jan. 17, 2007, interlocal cooperation agreement.

Woody defeated Farmer in 2010. Both men are vying for county executive in this year’s election.

Messages left for Farmer on Friday were not returned by deadline.

When Farmer was county executive, he said Roane County would benefit from jobs at Plateau Partnership Park.

“We would benefit from jobs in the region,” Woody admitted, “but we would have benefitted from that whether we made a $2.5 million investment there or not.”

The agreement calls for the counties to share the money equally if any property is sold in the industrial park.

However, it’s not uncommon for industrial boards to give away property for free in order to land an industry.

“If they were to give a piece of property away, we would not get anything,” Woody said.

Woody is not the only Roane County official who believes the Plateau Partnership Park deal lacks equality.

“I think we got the short end of the deal on that partnership agreement,” Commissioner Steve Kelley said. “We need to try to do what we can to rectify that situation.”

The Roane County Commission is scheduled to meet today – Monday – at the Roane County Courthouse in Kingston. 

A resolution on the agenda request that the Plateau Partnership Park agreement be changed to include an equitable sharing of property tax in perpetuity.

Cumberland and Morgan counties would have to agree to that. If the resolution is approved, Woody said he will try to work with those counties to change the agreement.

Roane County does have some leverage.

The Industrial Development Board of Cumberland, Morgan and Roane counties oversee the Plateau Partnership Park. Each county has three representatives on the board. In order to get a motion approved, at least one member from each of the counties must vote in favor of it.

“Roane County recognizes that a number of options exist to help negotiation,” the resolution states, “such as, requesting the Roane County Industrial Board members to: only vote in an affirmative to sell property at (fair market value) or cost whichever is greater, ask for a buyout of Roane County’s interest, not approve any further expenditures of funds.”

The budget committee voted 4-0 to recommend the resolution to the full commission.

“I believe in partnerships, but I want them to be equal,” Woody said. “This one does not look on prima facie evidence that it is an equal partnership.”