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Exxon ITEP request to be decided by council, school board and sheriff

The Metro Council, school board and sheriff will have their first chance to weigh in on a multimillion-dollar Industrial Tax Exemption request from ExxonMobil in coming weeks.

The company’s ITEP application for a potential Baton Rouge plant expansion—worth between $500 million and $1 billion—won approval from the state Board of Commerce and Industry on Aug. 29.

Exxon’s request now moves on to the local governing bodies, which have a 60-day approval period: 30 days to place the item on a public meeting agenda, and another 30 days to consider and vote on the ITEP application. If no action is taken within 60 days, the application will be automatically approved.

The school board has placed Exxon’s ITEP request on its Sept. 20 meeting agenda. The Metro Council, which meets this evening, has not yet scheduled the request but will likely take it up at its next meeting on Sept. 26, says Chief Administrative Officer Darryl Gissel.

“We’re still in the process of evaluation the application,” says East Baton Rouge Parish School Board President David Tatman. “We’re working with economist Jim Richardson, who is evaluating ITEP applications for us … I’ve not had anyone contact me opposing it.”

Sheriff Sid Gautreaux also has a 60-day period to issue a letter approving or rejecting the property tax break. Spokeswoman Casey Rayborn Hicks says the sheriff is “reviewing the matter and no decision has been made.”

In the meantime, local Exxon executives and economic development officials are reaching out to elected officials with information and emphasizing the significance of Exxon’s expansion project and the role ITEP could play in bringing it to Baton Rouge.

Exxon’s potential polypropylene expansion at the Baton Rouge polyolefins plant would be part of the oil giant’s 10-year, $20 billion “Growing the Gulf” initiative along the southern coast.

The project is expected to create 45 direct jobs and 20 contractors jobs, along with up to 600 temporary construction jobs. Under the new ITEP rules, which caps the property tax breaks at 80% for 10 years, the city-parish would collect nearly $7 million in property taxes on the Exxon project over the first 10 years, the company says. Exxon’s tax break would be worth $5.7 million in the first year.

Exxon will make a decision on the project location by the fourth quarter, says spokeswoman Stephanie Cargile.

The governor, mayor and local business groups have pledged their support in bringing the project to Baton Rouge, with the help of ITEP incentives.

“This is a super competitive project,” says BRAC Senior Vice President for Economic Competitiveness Liz Smith. “It’s the beginning of biting off the apple of the Exxon Gulf Coast initiative and years of investments they’re planning to make. This project helps build the infrastructure Baton Rouge needs to compete for the next one. It also shows we’re open for business. This is a big message to Exxon.”

Together Baton Rouge, which has been critical of ITEP, says in a statement to Daily Report that the school board and council should establish standards for approving ITEP requests. For the Exxon request, the group urges the local entities to require Exxon to “declare the value of all their existing property first, as they already are required to do by law” before granting the oil giant another tax break.

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