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Jefferson Parish to vote on tax break for company that crawfished on 100 jobs

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Jefferson Parish to vote on tax break for company that crawfished on 100 jobs

Nov 29, 2023 | 6:00 am ET
By Wesley Muller
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Jefferson officials to vote on tax break for company that crawfished on 100 jobs
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The Jefferson Parish Council and its school board will both consider a multi-million dollar tax break next week for a Texas fertilizer company that reneged on its promise to bring more than 100 six-figure-salaried jobs to the parish. 

Both are scheduled to meet Dec. 6 and will likely call for a vote on a $3.6 million annual property tax exemption for APF River Partners, the local entity for an American Plant Food plant that manufactures ammonia fertilizers for large industrial-scale farms. APF plans to build a facility along the west bank of the Mississippi River in Waggaman. 

APF spent nearly a year using the allure of over 100 high-paying jobs to promote its plans for the factory and apply for a lucrative tax break under the state’s Industrial Tax Exemption Program (ITEP). Louisiana’s ITEP offers industrial manufacturers huge exemptions on property taxes, which local governments rely on to pay for things like schools, drainage, levees, roads, hospitals, law enforcement and other public services. 

Last year, the company initially said it would create more than 100 full-time jobs at the new plant with an average salary of $120,000. That would have been a hefty $12 million annual payroll. 

But earlier this year, APF began changing the number of promised jobs and did so at least three times. In each case, the number was significantly lower than the initial estimate of 100, and projected salaries have fallen by nearly half, according to records filed with state regulators.

The first substantial change occurred in March when APF requested an air pollution permit from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality. A company official signed a state form certifying that APF planned to create 103 new permanent jobs at the facility. 

Just three days later, however, APF filed paperwork to apply for its tax exemption that indicated it planned to create only 16 new positions at the plant, according to Louisiana Economic Development, the state agency that manages ITEP. 

The second revision was made later that month when the company filed its full application with a job-creation figure of only 13 positions at an average annual salary of just $56,000, far below the initial promised pay of $120,000 and slightly below the median household income for Jefferson Parish.

A company promised 100 high-paying jobs in Jefferson Parish. Now it’s just 13 at half the pay

The latest change came in October when APF told the state Board of Commerce and Industry it planned to create 28 jobs with average salaries at roughly $133,000. However, the company included 15 contractor positions in its calculations, making it difficult to determine what the actual salaries will be for the 13 full-time positions.

Despite public criticism over APF’s changing promises, the Board of Commerce unanimously approved the company’s $3.6 million first-year ITEP application last month, asking only a few basic questions of APF executives.

Jerry Bilicek, APF’s chief operating officer, told the board the initial figure of 100 jobs was based on the company’s initial plans. It has since downsized the project because of inflation and plans to complete it in three phases, resulting in the revised figure of 13 full-time jobs. 

“That’s what we’re willing to commit to you today to move forward,” Bilicek said at the Oct. 25 meeting. “But as I’ve shared with the board, we have every intention and desire on a much larger project.”

APF did not respond to a request for further comment Tuesday.

With the Board of Commerce’s initial approval, APF’s property tax break application is now up for local review with the parish’s council, school board and sheriff. 

Councilman Byron Lee, whose district includes the area of the proposed plant, has not responded to repeated requests for comment since August. Sheriff Joe Lopinto and Jefferson School Board President Ralph Brandt also did not respond to a request for comment. 

In a phone call Tuesday, Jefferson Parish resident Lisa Karlin said she has been trying to educate the council and school board members on the extent of the situation. Karlin has been vocally opposed to the APF’s request for a tax break. 

She said American Plant Food is a private company with a single owner who doesn’t even live in Louisiana.

“We the taxpayers are basically going to build it for him at no cost,” Karlin said. 

APF recently lost one of its existing fertilizer plants to a massive fire. The Aug. 20 blaze in Bartlett, Texas, forced area residents to evacuate and spread to about six acres of grasslands until it burned itself out. 

Chemicals used to make fertilizers, such as ammonium nitrate, can be highly flammable. 

APF plans to build its plant on Cornerstone’s 800-acre complex, where several other facilities are located that handle the same kinds of chemicals APF uses to produce its fertilizer. APF plans to use sulfuric acid and an ammonia feedstock that another company, Dyno Nobel, already produces at the Cornerstone complex. Dyno Nobel is an industrial explosive manufacturer.