Pima County has scheduled five community meetings to provide information and receive comments on the proposed Monsanto greenhouse facility just outside Marana.
Monsanto, a multinational agrochemical and agricultural biotechnology corporation, recently purchased 155 acres near Twin Peaks and Sanders roads for a greenhouse facility, but a vote on potential tax breaks were put on hold after critics of the company flooded a November Pima County Board of Supervisors meeting.
Opponents of Monsanto are pushing the Board of Supervisors to oppose supporting a proposal that would provide a property-tax reduction and also took their opposition to the project to a public meeting with Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas.
Initially the postponement was designed to allow time for the county to convene the Pima County Agricultural Science Advisory Commission that, according to a press release, “will review four hours of public comments provided at the Nov. 22 meeting related to the Monsanto proposal.”
County Administrator Chuck Huckleberry wrote in a memo to supervisors that he recommended the creation of the advisory commission to separate fact from fiction.
“Given the far-reaching claims and controversial statements regarding Monsanto over their possible location in Pima County, it is important to address concerns that may arise both factually and scientifically,” Huckleberry wrote.
In addition, the Board of Supervisors tasked the county administrator with holding public meetings in each supervisor’s district in order “to provide the public more information about the Monsanto proposal and the county’s role in the proposal, and to receive feedback from the public.”
Pima County Economic Development Deputy Director Patrick Cavanaugh and a Monsanto company representative recommended subject matter experts plan to attend the meetings.
The exact nature of the tax breaks would be the creation of a Foreign Tax Zone (FTZ), which would reduce the amount of property tax Monsanto pays on the facility, a project which they have pledged nearly $100 million to build a seven-acre greenhouse facility to develop and grow corn seed for research purposes. While the FTZ would reduce the property tax rate that Monsanto pays, the project will generate far more property tax than the unused land currently does.
Approval of the FTZ would reduce the property tax rate from 15 percent to 5 percent, but it would benefit the county because the property value will increase with the construction of the greenhouses so “the actual amount of taxes generated will be much higher than what the vacant land currently generates,” according to county documents.
In 2015, that property generated $831 in county property taxes and $1,956 in total property taxes in 2015. By the middle of the FTZ designation period, the county estimates the property tax will be $221,251.
After the planned site improvements, even with the lower tax assessment ratio, County, fire and school districts would receive $694,416 at the fifth year of the agreement.
The Monsanto facility is expected to create 50 new jobs by the fourth year of operation with an average salary of $44,000 and even half-time jobs are expected to earn an average salary of $35,000.
The Marana Unified School District would also benefit from Monsanto. County officials estimate that Monsanto become the largest taxpayer in the school district, paying double what the Ritz Carlton-Dove Mountain pays. As part of the proposal, Monsanto has agreed to pay extra to the school district to make up for some of the lost tax revenue if the trade zone is established. They are also offering educational opportunities to Marana High School agricultural and science students.
At its Oct. 27 meeting the Marana Unified School District Governing Board approved a $500,000 cash payment as their payment in lieu of taxes.
MUSD CFO Dan Contorno spoke out in favor of the deal at the Nov. 22 meeting but said that his support was purely on a financial basis for the district. Also speaking out in favor of the deal was Mike Varney, President and CEO of the Tucson Chamber of Commerce.
Neither the Town of Marana nor the Marana Chamber of Commerce has taken a position on the project. For the town, the greenhouse lies outside town limits, though it must be noted that Marana Town Council Member Herb Kai’s family owned the land that was sold to Monsanto. Marana Mayor Ed Honea did not take a stand either way, but said he knew there were people who have a negative opinion of Monsanto.
As for the Marana Chamber, president and CEO Ed Stolmaker said he too was aware of the project, but “no one has brought this up to be an agenda item for the board.”
Environmental concerns and the company’s business practices overseas are the most common complaints by those speaking out against Monsanto. Fears about GMOs and pesticides were frequently mentioned. Although the first phase of the project is going to be fully enclosed in the greenhouse, Monsanto has indicated two acres would be used for “seed processing.”
Several Marana area farmers said that they and nearly every other farmer in the area already uses genetically modified seeds, which not only have a higher yield, but are developed to utilize less pesticides.
The county does not grant the FTZ designation nor provide the company with any Pima County specific incentives or special property tax considerations, which are granted under state and federal laws.
Under the terms of the proposed agreements, Monsanto would “agree to meet with and report quarterly to Pima County about the use of type and quantity of pesticides used at the site; annual water usage; wastewater volumes; and reports about any hazardous spills at the site. The company also would comply with all federal, state and local laws regarding use, handling and disposal of pesticides and hazardous materials.”
The schedule of meetings:
· · District 2: 6 p.m., Jan. 19; Quincie Douglas Center, 1575 E. 36th St.
· District 3: 5 p.m., Jan. 17; Ellie Towne Community Center, 1660 W. Ruthrauff Road
· District 4: 11 a.m., Jan. 13; Green Valley Recreation Center - Las Companas Room, 565 W. Belltower Drive
· District 5: 6 p.m., Jan. 18; Pima County Housing Center, 801 W. Congress St.
The Board of Supervisors plans to discuss two pending agreements with Monsanto at the Feb. 21 Board meeting. Pima County also created a Monsanto information web page.