ExxonMobil ITEP request seemingly has support of Metro Council, school board

Now that ExxonMobil’s request for a property tax abatement under the state’s Industrial Tax Exemption Program has been unanimously approved by the state, the Metro Council and East Baton Rouge Parish School Board have until the end of the month to weigh in on the request, which ExxonMobil is seeking on a proposed $240 million modernization project at its north Baton Rouge refinery.

So far, it doesn’t appear the company will encounter significant opposition from either body.

ExxonMobil has been engaging in aggressive outreach and lobbying efforts in recent weeks to secure the incentive, worth some $20 million over 10 years, which company officials have said is key to whether the investment project moves forward.

Several Metro Council members say they’ve already spoken to company executives about the request and don’t plan to oppose it.

“I don’t necessarily see there being too many challenges at this point based on our guidelines,” says Council member Lamont Cole, who also serves as Metro Council president. “I don’t know if they have met with all of us yet but I have met with them and I recognize the value in what they’re trying to do.”

Council member Dwight Hudson says representatives with the company and the Baton Rouge Area Chamber reached out to him early on about the request and it was an easy sell from his perspective.

“It sounds like a good project that will keep us competitive,” Hudson says. “ExxonMobil is at a disadvantage locally and this is an opportunity to keep the Baton Rouge plant competitive with its facility in Texas.”

While no one disagrees that the proposed investment is needed, some have questioned whether the project, which would enable the local refinery to retain jobs but would not create any net new jobs, should be eligible for a tax break under ITEP.

Cole, for one, doesn’t buy that argument.

“ExxonMobil has been an economic development leader in our community and has done a lot of good things,” he says. “They’re our partner and any opportunity we have for them to compete and keep expanding we want to do that.”

The ITEP request will be introduced at today’s Metro Council meeting.

Several school board members also favor approving the deal, even if it doesn’t create any net new jobs.

Dadrius Lane says he has “very strong feelings” in favor of it because of the jobs it would retain and also because ExxonMobil has committed to hiring and training a certain number of workers from north Baton Rouge.

“The number of jobs that will come out of north Baton Rouge and the educational opportunities that will come from that is really important,” he says. “The job retention alone is something our community desperately needs.”

School board President David Tatman says he also supports the request, adding “it looks like it will be a very exciting project.”

The school board next meets Feb. 18. At that meeting, the board will also take up an item to amend the language it uses in evaluating ITEP requests so that it is the same as that used by the Metro Council.

“There was some wording in our standards that was causing potential investors some heartache and we were worried we were turning people away, so we worked with LED to revise it,” Tatman says. “Now if someone wants to invest in East Baton Rouge, the Metro Council and the school board will have aligned policies and that will make for a better process.”