Following testimony from Lockwood Fire Chief, Bill Rash, that he is supportive of a tax incentive for Aspen Air, County Commissioners unanimously approved the company’s application. Commissioner Jim Reno said that had it not been for Rash’s support he was prepared to vote “no,” because the application was received late and revenues had already been built into the fire district’s budget.
The public hearing for the proposal was postponed from a meeting two weeks ago at which Rash pointed out that in granting the property tax relief, the fire district would lose half of the $55,000 it had already counted on to balance a budget that is struggling to remain balanced after experiencing financial upheaval a couple of years ago.
Rash told commissioners that since the last meeting, in discussions with officials of the Big Sky Economic Development Authority (BSEDA), he has been promised that the agency will devote considerable effort to obtaining grants that will help the fire district buy equipment that will compensate for the $26,000 loss.
BSEDA oversees the process for companies applying for the tax relief program offered by the county for new and expanding businesses, which reduces by half for five years the increase in property taxes that their investment generates. The tax is then increased incrementally over the next five years until it reaches the full 100 percent.
Commissioners earlier voiced concern about the timing of applications for tax reduction and the importance that they are processed before the property goes on the tax rolls.
BSEDA Director Steve Arveshoug spoke in support of the incentive saying that Aspen Air is “a growing company with an $800,000 payroll.” “The incentive will help them grow,” he continued, noting that Aspen Air is planning to invest even more this year to the plant at 1524 Lockwood Road, where they have already invested $23 million.
Aspen Air’s taxable valuation is $14,619,000 which would generate a total of $305,000 in property taxes– a considerable jump from the $7000 assessed against the property the year previous. The tax incentive would reduce that total by $97,000 county-wide.
Another Lockwood businessman testified at the hearing voicing a concern often heard from business people who do not get tax incentives. Ivan Andrick, owner of Emerald View Mobile Home Park, said, “No one gave us a tax abatement. You are raising the rate for everyone,” he said, referring to the fact that when total taxes paid is reduced the rate at which all property tax payers are assessed increases in order to meet the same revenue levels.
Andrick said that he came to support the fire district, and even though “they have turned back, I’m still here to protest.”
“Chief Rash said that he can supplement his budget, but he will still get income from me and my residents,” said Andrick, adding, “I don’t know how Mr. Rash can say he is going to make up the difference without affecting me and the other Lockwood citizens.”
Commissioner Bill Kennedy said that he believes that what should be focused upon is how much higher the tax base is as a consequence of Aspen Air’s investment, and that everyone is paying less in taxes than if they were not here. The base will become higher in the future if they are able to expand, he said, and everyone will continue to pay less overall.
Aspen Air separates elements from air, condensing them and distributing the industrial gases to other businesses -- gaseous and liquid nitrogen, oxygen and argon etc. which are used by refineries, hospitals, welders, oil fields, etc. With typical salaries of between $60,000 and $80,000, they currently employ seven people and are in the process of adding at least two more individuals to that roster.
The Big Sky Business Journal
P.O. Box 3262
Billings, MT 59103