Canby Fire District Asks that Columbia Distributing Tax Abatement be Tabled, or Denied

The Canby Fire District has again requested that Columbia Distributing’s application for a sizable 15-year tax abatement for its new facility in the Canby industrial park be tabled, or outright denied.

The Canby Fire Board of Directors made the request in a letter to Mayor Brian Hodson and the Canby City Council, dated April 1, the same date as this week’s meeting where a decision is expected on Columbia’s application for the Strategic Investment Zone.

Click to access Lette-fromFireDistrictregardingColumbia-Distributing4-1-2020.pdf

The board asks for the matter to be tabled or rejected on the basis that “there are no legal opinions from the state or otherwise justifying the position that the project is eligible” for the program that would offer it an estimated $5 million tax break over the next 15 years.

Under normal circumstances, the project certainly would be eligible for the tax abatement, by virtue of its location in the county’s Rural Strategic Investment Zone, and the strong likelihood that its assessed value will be well over the $25 million threshold required by the program (estimates from the company place it in the $65 million range).

However, due to an apparent miscommunication between Columbia and Business Oregon, the company failed to file its application before beginning construction — which is a prerequisite to being considered.

Initially, an incentive coordinator for Business Oregon stated to the company that the error would disqualify them. But staff working with the county and the state soon hammered out a compromise that would render ineligible only the work that took place prior to when the state received the company’s application on July 2.

Though its letter does not address it specifically, the board seems skeptical of the compromise. They’re also critical of the staff report by Economic Development Director Jamie Stickel, which “states that after much discussion between Business Oregon, Columbia Distributing, Clackamas County and the City of Canby, Business Oregon has deemed the project eligible,” the letter said. “That is not correct.”

The letter said the district’s legal counsel has contacted representatives of Business Oregon and the Attorney General’s Office, none of whom would state definitively that the project is still eligible despite missing the statutorily required deadline.

It also claimed a lack of “substantive response” on the matter from Canby City Attorney Joe Lindsay.

“Canby Fire has not been provided any information, but has been directed to pursue the untimely and perhaps costly process of a formal public records request,” said the letter, signed by board Chair Steve Thoroughman. “The city attorney has also declined to provide any analysis, even verbally, supporting the eligibility of the project.”

Thoroughman asked the city to table the resolution pending a formal legal opinion from the state attorney general, which the fire district has requested, or to simply deny it, in the absence of any written legal opinions that the project is still eligible for the program.

Tabling the matter would also appear problematic. A final decision on the application, which must be made by the Oregon Business Development Commission, is due by July 1. The commission meets quarterly and has only one scheduled meeting before that deadline, currently set for April 10.

If the project is ultimately approved, the fire district would take a hit, as would more than a dozen other local taxing entities. It’s projected Canby Fire would lose out on an estimated $800,000 in revenue over the 15-year period.

The Canby School District would lose an estimated $2.21 million, according to the county’s latest projections. The city would lose an estimated $1.41 million, the Canby Urban Renewal Agency $903,656 and Clackamas County itself $836,699.

“For the record, if approved, significant additional burdens will be placed on Canby Fire, which in turn will affect the quality and timeliness of medical and emergency responses to all of the citizens in our district,” the letter states.

In addition to the district’s letter, the board submitted an extensive series of questions about Columbia’s SIZ application that they have asked the council to consider for Wednesday night.

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