(The Center Square) — Jefferson Parish residents are taking issue with a tax exemption for a new chemical plant that last year promised 100 jobs with average salaries of $120,000 but later revised the figures to 13 positions at $56,000 after gaining public support.
In an application for the Industrial Tax Exemption Program, American Plant Food River Partners promised to create 13 positions with an average annual salary of $56,000 in exchange for a 10-year tax exemption totaling $47.3 million.
The job forecast is a fraction of the more than 100 new full-time jobs with an average annual salary of $120,000 promised in flyers distributed at multiple community meetings when the Texas-based company laid out plans for a manufacturing plant along the West Bank in October.
The Board of Commerce and Industry approved a request to defer the ITEP application at a meeting this week but allowed parish resident Lisa Karlin to speak about the proposal.
“There was a lot of public interest in these new high-paying job opportunities,” she said.
Karlin pointed out that in addition to the flyers, American Plant Food promised 103 jobs on its air permit application and continues to claim “100+ new, permanent, full-time, local jobs with an annual salary of $100K” on its website.
“No one has come back to the public to say it's just 13 jobs paying $13,000 less than the median annual household income in Jefferson Parish,” she said.
The math, Karlin said, equates to “$3.64 million in tax exemptions for each job created.”
The reason behind the discrepancy between the jobs promised in October and the 13 included in the ITEP application is unclear. The company has not responded to requests for comment from the media. The company's ITEP application includes $1.1 million in additional contract personnel and $17.6 million for construction.
“The promise of 100 high-paying jobs, along with American Plant Foods' commitment to hiring locally, got the attention and the support of the public,” Karlin said. “If you've heard that the residents in Jefferson Parish support the fertilizer plant, this is not the case when they learn the truth about the number of jobs, the actual salaries, and the $3.64 million in tax exemptions for each job created.”
Karlin told the board she worries the apparent deception would set a precedent for other manufacturers to inflate job numbers and erode the integrity of the ITEP program.
Opponents in the community have also submitted formal comments in opposition to American Plant Food's application for an air pollution permit with the Department of Environmental Quality and are expected to weigh in if and when local officials vet the tax exemption.
American Plant Food's application will be reviewed at the Board of Commerce and Industry's next meeting.