Discussion of Tax Incentives for Columbia Distributing on Hold as State, County Review ‘Procedural Issues’

A further discussion of sizable property tax incentives that appear to be due Columbia Distributing’s new, 530,000-square-foot beverage warehouse and distribution facility in Canby has been postponed because of “procedural issues” that Clackamas County and the state economic development agency, Business Oregon, are now reviewing.

The incentives are through the Clackamas County Rural Strategic Investment Zone, a Business Oregon program administered by the county. Canby has been part of the program since 2010, along with the cities of Sandy, Molalla and Estacada, but Columbia Distributing is the first company to apply for it.

Under the SIZ, taxes on any assessed valuation in excess of $25 million are abated for 15 years. In return, the company must pay 25 percent of the savings — up to a maximum of $500,000 — toward a community service fee, whose disbursement must be determined through an agreement between the city, county and other taxing districts (in this case, Canby School District and Canby Fire).

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.

The matter sparked tension when it came before the City Council two weeks ago. Most councilors claimed to have no knowledge of the incentives Columbia appeared to be in line for, and felt they had misled constituents in previous discussions with constituents about the most significant and impactful industrial project in the city’s history.

Canby Fire Chief Jim Davis and Fire Board President Steve Thoroughman also reported having no knowledge of it, and asked for more time to determine how the tax breaks would impact them and their ability to provide districtwide service.

Councilors agreed, and voted to table the proposed resolution approving Columbia’s application until their next meeting on Feb. 5. When the agenda for that meeting was posted today, however, the resolution was nowhere to be found.

Reached by email this afternoon, Canby City Administrator Scott McClure — who has been with the city only since last October — explained that the delay is because “the State of Oregon and Clackamas County are reviewing procedural issues regarding Columbia’s application.”

“Until these are worked out, the City has nothing to take action on,” he continued. “I’m hoping that these issues will be worked out by the Feb. 19 or March 4 meetings.”

During the last meeting, both councilors and an attorney representing the fire district questioned whether Columbia had followed the proper process required by law, which seemed to imply the need for the SIZ application to be submitted and approved before the start of construction activities. The city received their application in June, weeks after demolition and other ground work had begun on the site.

However, Canby Economic Development Director Jamie Stickel said city staff and the company have been working closely with Business Oregon throughout this process and have been assured the project remains eligible for the SIZ.

The Strategic Investment Program was created in the 1990s to induce large, capital-intensive facilities to locate and grow anywhere in Oregon. The establishment of Strategic Investment Zones was a later addition, to provide a more streamlined local process.

There are two other SIZs currently on the books, one in the Gresham area of Multnomah County, and another in Clackamas, covering portions of Lake Oswego and Happy Valley, though the program has been used in many counties around the state.

All three of the SIZs were established during the Great Recession, in 2009 or 2010.

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