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CORPORATE WELFARE CAPITAL : CoMo leaders roll out red carpet for shady out-of-staters

Soul crushing theft from our pockets to theirs  

COLUMBIA, Mo 3/15/17 (Op Ed) -- A comment from a Boone County Commissioner prompted a response from the Columbia city manager that portrays Columbia as a go-to destination for mediocre companies seeking taxpayer handouts. 

Commissioner Fred Parry reportedly said City Hall gave Aurora Organic Dairy (AOD) a $500,000 utility rate discount.  

The Colorado-based dairy is already floating on a raft of taxpayer giveaways to open a CoMo processing plant and "create" 100 "good-paying" jobs.  

Retired city public works superintendent Bill Weitkemper says he asked Parry to clarify, and the newly-elected Commissioner reiterated city officials are giving the dairy a half-million dollar break on its utility bills.

This discount, if true, is on top of City Hall selling property to AOD at a million dollar loss.   And on top of a stupefying 10 year, 75% property tax discount for the dairy, which has a history of lawsuits alleging fraud and false "organic" labeling. 

Weitkemper asked city manager Mike Matthes to confirm Parry's claim.   Matthes responded with the bureaucratic blob that follows this column.   Decipher it if you dare.   

If Mr. Matthes, his staff, and City Council members performed a fraction of these financial gyrations for hard-working residents ALREADY invested here, Columbia would be twice the place they hope it will be with all this corporate welfare.

For existing residents, city leaders raise every fee, fine, tax, and rate they can beat the bushes for, and invent a few more – like red light cameras – that didn’t exist.   
Or they cry poverty (e.g. no money for public safety without a brand new property tax) while shady out-staters (Aurora, Opus, the Dinner Train, the Tiger Hotel owners, IBM, Mamtek up the highway, etc. etc.) lap up the life blood of our tax base via red carpet treatment from groups like REDI, our city's economic development office.
Our property taxes are up 20% since 2011, while in surrounding counties, they’ve actually fallen.    Some small business fees are up 400% since Matthes took office in 2012.  

Sales taxes, parking fees, user fees:  up, up, UP!   Utility bills are a freaking nightmare.   They have to make up for all the breaks on someone's back. 

So many people -- too many people -- are totally cool about all this, which should bother our public servants:  How little attention local government pays its tolerant constituents, while doing flip-flops for strangers with mediocre offerings and iffy histories.

State Auditor Nicole Galloway’s crony comeuppance at Mizzou exposed this “let ‘em eat cake” attitude at the university.   We have a similar problem in local government.    City Hall, the County Commission, and the Columbia School Board all sign on to these huge discounts and incentives, while raising taxes on "the little people".    

Taken together, these tax breaks, utility discounts, real estate losses, and all the time and effort that go into them are not only budget-busting and wallet-crunching, but soul crushing, too.     


From: "Michael Matthes"
To: Bill Weitkemper
Cc: "Timothy Teddy" 
Sent: Wednesday, March 8, 2017 11:08:05 AM
Subject: Re: AOD

Hi Bill,
I've excerpted the part of the sale agreement where the $500,000 is referenced below. I hope that's helpful.   By copy of this email, I'll ask Tim to contact you as well.

"13. Escrow of Purchase Price Reduction. The City is willing to provide for a reduction in the Purchase Price of the Property upon certification Company has met certain benchmarks related to Project construction, operation and employment of full-time employees as set forth herein. At Closing, $500,000 of the Purchase Price (the “Escrow Funds”) received from Company hereunder shall be deposited in escrow with the Title Company or other third party escrow agent agreed to by City and Company to be held pursuant to an escrow agreement agreed to between the City, Company, and such escrow agent (the “Escrow Agreement”). Such Escrow Agreement shall provide for release of the entire $500,000 of Escrow Funds to City if Company fails to complete Phase 1 of the Project on or before the three year anniversary of the Closing Date, subject to force majeure, as evidenced by issuance of a temporary or permanent Certificate of Occupancy (the “Phase 1 Completion Date”). If the Phase 1 Completion Date occurs on or before the three year anniversary of the Closing Date, the funds will be retained by the escrow agent and $100,000 of the Escrow Funds shall be released to the Company if, at any time during the twelve month period following the Phase 1 Completion Date or any subsequent 12 month period (each, a “Project Year”), the Company has working at the Project the number of full-time employees specified below for the relevant year (each, a “Total Employee Benchmark”): Page 9 of 12 4832-0223-3149.8 Year Total Employee Benchmark First Project Year 80 Second Project Year 100 Third Project Year 110 Fourth Project Year 120 Fifth Project Year 130 The Escrow Funds shall be eligible to be released to Company in five equal installments of $100,000 (each, a “Disbursement Amount”) during each of the first five successive Project Years. As a condition precedent to each such release of the Disbursement Amount for such Project Year to the Company hereunder, the Company shall, within ninety (90) days following the applicable anniversary, deliver to the City payroll records or other documentation of the number of employees, or by completing a certification in substantially the form set forth in Exhibit “C” attached hereto (in whatever form, the “Employment Documentation”) demonstrating the highest number of full-time Company employees at the Project during the applicable Project Year. If the Company delivers Employment Documentation within such ninety (90) day period, which indicates that the applicable Total Employee Benchmark has been achieved, the escrow agent shall release the Disbursement Amount for the applicable Project Year to the Company. If the Company fails to deliver Employment Documentation within such ninety (90) day period, or if any timely Employment Documentation indicates that the applicable Total Employee Benchmark has not been achieved, the escrow agent shall retain the Disbursement Amount for the applicable Project Year. Failure of Company to meet the Total Employee Benchmark for any particular Project Year shall not prohibit Company from filing Employment Documentation and receiving the Disbursement Amount in any subsequent Project Year, and if Company achieves the Total Employee Benchmark during a subsequent Project Year, all Disbursement Amounts retained for any prior Project Year shall be disbursed to Company. At the end of five years, any portion of the Escrow Funds for which the Company has not qualified shall be released to City."
Mike Matthes
City Manager
Columbia, Missouri
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