City Administrator Apologizes for How Columbia’s Strategic Investment Zone Application Was Presented

Canby City Administrator Scott McClure apologized last week to city councilors for how Columbia Distributing’s application for the Clackamas County rural Strategic Investment Zone — a state incentive program that offers a 15-year property tax exemption on a portion of large capital investments — was presented during the most recent council meeting.

The Strategic Investment Program was created to attract large, capital-intensive facilities to locate in Oregon, and the county’s SIZ was established in 2010 with approval from the cities of Canby, Estacada, Happy Valley, Molalla and Sandy. Columbia Distributing, with its 531,000-square-foot beverage warehouse and distribution facility in the Canby Pioneer Industrial Park, is the first company to take advantage.

The program offers an abatement on property taxes due on any amount over the first $25 million of assessed value. However, 25 percent must be returned each year in the form of a “community service fee,” which is distributed by agreement between the impacted taxing districts.

It’s unknown what the assessed value of the completed project will be, and therefore it’s impossible to predict how much the SIZ will save Columbia in tax payments over the next 15 years, but it’s fair to say the savings will be significant. The company estimates it is investing or has invested more than $60 million in its land and facilities for the initial build-out.

When the application came before the Canby City Council last week, virtually every councilor claimed to be unaware of the program, as well as Columbia’s plans to apply for it. (Columbia’s application had been submitted to the city in June 2019, more than six months before it was presented to the council.)

McClure, who is new to the city of Canby and started in the position just a few months ago, apologized for the situation in an email to the City Council, Mayor Brian Hodson, City Recorder Melissa Bisset and City Attorney Joe Lindsay last Friday that was provided to the Canby Now Podcast.

Click to access FranckeRequst-Columbia-SIZ-1-20-2020-1.pdf

“Had we known that Council was not aware of the program in general, or the specific Columbia application, it would have been handled differently,” McClure wrote. “With that said, we are where we are.”

The situation presents a challenge, with the need to address elected officials and the public who feel they were not given a complete picture of the situation, while also balancing the scrutiny of existing and potential business partners for the city.

Columbia is, without a doubt, the largest and most significant project the city has recruited to set up shop here in the Garden Spot, and Canby hopes to continue to attract quality employers to fill out its tax base in the Pioneer Industrial Park.

McClure urged the council to “now move forward in a professional and effective manner.”

“Let’s show the community that we are an organization that can make tough decisions and even recover from a kerfuffle,” he said. “Let’s also show the development/business community that we are a reliable partner.”

The company’s application was tabled last week, to be revisited on Feb. 5. McClure asked councilors to submit to him any further questions or requests for information, so city staff can present a more complete and in-depth report on the SIZ application and its impacts on the community.

Currently, the presentation will include a discussion of how the county SIZ works, what tax dollars or incentives are in play and more information on the community service fee process.

Councilors would also like to know for sure that the application is even still valid, considering language presented last week that seemed to suggest the SIZ application must be filed and approved before construction begins, which was not the case here.

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