Loose ends delay county’s Chevron deal
Last updated 12/17/2019 at Noon
For The Record
No fewer than eight news outlets sent reporters to Tuesday’s final meeting of the year for the Orange County Commissioners.
But the story they were after, an up-or-down vote to approve a tax abatement agreement with Chevron Phillips Chemical for a possible $5.6-billion petrochemical plant, was a non-starter.
“We’ve been working with the project over the last several months to work out some language that everybody is comfortable with,” Jessica Hill, director of the Orange County Economic Development Corporation, told commissioners.
“We’re very close to getting there, but we’re just not there yet.”
Commissioners agreed to take no action.
They will next meet at 2 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 2, as they canceled next Tuesday’s meeting and moved the Dec. 31 meeting back two days because of the year-ending holidays.
Chevron Phillips Chemical announced in January 2019 it was considering Orange County as the location of a $5.6 billion ethylene plant.
Its official stance since has been that Orange is just one of two or more locations under consideration, with a decision not expected until mid- or late-2020.
County officials have revealed no details about the terms of an abatement, but the county has made 10-year agreements that abated 100 percent of property taxes with other new or expanding businesses.
Since January, Chevron Phillips Chemical has acquired about 1,700 acres of land between the Orange County Airport on U.S. 87 and Chemical Row, on Farm to Market Road 1006.
It has sought tax incentives from the two school districts in which the property lies, West Orange-Cove and Bridge City.
Both have applied for Chapter 313 school value limitation agreements and the Texas Comptroller’s Office has accepted the one for WOCCISD.
The City of Orange granted a request to disannex 400-plus acres to put all the land in Orange County’s unincorporated area. And the county has sought Reinvestment Zone status from the state, necessary to grant the Chapter 312 Property Tax Abatement.
The agenda item has been posted on the county website since mid-November.
“We placed this item on the agenda 30 days ago, because state law requires us to do so, in hopes we’d be able to finalize that language between then and now,” Hill said.
“With the holidays and lots of folks being out on both sides of the table, we thought it was in everybody’s best interests to wait.”
County Judge John Gothia explained that the 86th Texas Legislature, meeting this spring, changed the posting requirements for adoption of tax abatements from the regular 3 days required for most public meetings to 30 days.
“This is a new posting requirement out of the last Legislative session: for any abatement we do, we have to post 30 days in advance,” he said.
“So it’s a little bit different and we’re having to kind of learn our way through.”
Hill said that under the law, the county must start over on the 30-day notification, which should happen early in 2020.
“I think at this point, we’re very happy with where we are,” Hill said.
“We’ve done a good job of taking care of Orange County, making sure that our citizens and our businesses are going to be well taken care of when we do get to a final agreement.”
Reporters from all three Orange County papers (The Record, The Orange Leader and Vidor Vidorian) and radio station KOGT, were joined by those from the Beaumont Enterprise, Beaumont Examiner, Channel 6 and Channel 4 for Tuesday’s meeting which began with announcement of a $20,000 donation from Entergy to Orange County Rebuild for Tropical Storm Imelda recovery.
“We wanted to give them a big thank-you for stepping up and helping Orange County. This money goes right back into Orange County, for those who were affected,” said Michelle Tubbleville, county coordinator of special projects.
October 2019 sales tax receipts of $439,000 were noted by Christy Khoury, county treasurer, and Karen Fisher, county tax assessor-collector, reported that the county took in $1.5 million in property taxes in November.
Commissioners agreed to pay weekly bills totaling $335,000 and set up two special budgets for grants the county received after the county’s 2020 general budget was approved in September.
The first was for $45,000 for grants for critical communication and emergency management; the second was for $6.1 million in FEMA grants for Hurricane Harvey.
Commissioners extended the declaration of disaster from September’s Imelda for an additional 30 days in hopes that a third, ongoing damage assessment by the Feds will authorize public assistance by FEMA.
Phil Noland of the county maintenance department announced contractors are set to begin Dec. 30 repairing Imelda damage at the Raymond Gould Community Center.