COLUMBUS — The Colorado County Commissioners Court voted Monday to make changes to its procedures for companies seeking tax abatements.
The changes come in the wake of a request for tax abatement by Hitari Wildlife Park, which died for lack of a motion by any member of the court late last month after a spokesperson for the park could not answer commissioners’ questions concerning the number of people the park would employ, whether the employees would be full-time or part-time, and what rates of pay would be--all information the court routinely requires for abatements.
County Judge Ty Prause told the court that two paragraphs from older criteria adopted by the court weren’t included the last time the court adopted revised guidelines to ensure their guidelines were in harmony with the Columbus Community and Industrial Development Commission and the city of Columbus.
“For applicants as well as members of the public, we want to make it as clear as possible that, to be eligible for a tax abatement, work cannot have commenced on any projects, whether new projects or expansions,” Prause said.
He said this was indicated in the application form, but not in the guidelines adopted by the court.
Area residents appearing before the court last month told the court that work had already begun on Hitari’s property near Borden prior to the date of the abatement hearing.
The other change was to increase the fee for the abatement application to $1,000. The previous abatement fee did not even cover the cost of the required legal notices, Prause told the court.
Other area counties, including Lavaca County, also charge a $1,000 fee. Prause said a great deal of work is required in staff and attorneys preparing for the abatement hearings.
Prior to the Hitari Wildlife Park abatement, commissioners previously granted an abatement to Great Southern Wood for an expansion at its Columbus facility. However, the facility was already in the permitting stages of its expansion with the city of Columbus after receiving a tax abatement from the city, and an official at the GSW Columbus facility told The Citizen prior to its hearings before the Colorado County Commissioners Court that the new facility was already planning to be located in Columbus regardless of the court’s actions.
It is unclear whether or not the wildlife park will open. A spokesperson for the park told commissioners last month that, without abatement, all work would cease and the land would be put up for sale.
“We were disappointed but are weighing some different options,” Robicheaux told The Citizen Monday. He did not wish to comment further.