KALAMAZOO, MI – The City of Kalamazoo Commission voted to give Graphic Packaging International (GPI) a one-year tax break, which is a reduced amount from what the company requested.
The city commission discussed the issue on Monday, October 18, at its regular business meeting, which was held virtually.
During the discussion, Commissioner Jack Urban said the city would back down on the investment in the relationship it made if it did not approve a tax break.
“I’m willing to ignore what’s happened in the long past,” Urban said, and the smells that have been released are out in the world and cannot be put back into a bottle.
Urban said he trusts GPI, acknowledging that some people in the community don’t trust the company.
Kalamazoo’s sprawling Northside factory is expanding by $ 600 million. The plant has received odor violations from the state of Michigan in the past, causing some to wonder what chemicals the plant releases and if they can impact health.
Commissioner Erin Knott said the smell is overwhelming at times and the commission now has the power to have a say in the process. She said the people she represents have raised concerns with her, including higher than normal asthma rates in the neighborhood.
Vice Mayor Patrese Griffin said she didn’t feel comfortable approving a 5-year abatement. She spoke about people affected by odors and odor concerns.
The commissioners talked about a community benefits agreement tied to the abatement. The one-year tax allowance expires in December 2022.
City staff recommended that the commission adopt a five-year tax deduction. GPI had initially requested an abatement over 12 years in 2020.
In September, the municipal commission began a discussion on GPI’s tax relief request.
The commissioners chose to defer the issue until after an Oct. 5 meeting hosted by the Michigan Department of the Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE). At the EGLE meeting, environment and health officials explained that hydrogen sulfide has been found in short-term tests in amounts that would be of concern for long-term exposures. Further analysis is needed to examine potential long-term impacts, officials said.
The investigation, which focuses on hydrogen sulfide and also includes other chemicals, could be released this year, according to Michigan Department of Health and Human Services toxicologist Brandon Reid. Investigators are working to see if anything is released by the Graphic Packaging International factory or the city’s wastewater treatment plant that could impact the health of people living in an area close to the facilities, he said. at MLive in October.
Related: “Environmental racism has happened in Kalamazoo,” says commissioner as city suspends decision on tax break for plant
Several people called about the issue Monday ahead of the vote, complaining about the smells and sharing health concerns they said could be linked to pollution in the Northside.
All but one citizen speaking on the subject were against the tax deduction.
Brandi Crawford-Johnson, a former Northside resident, said if commissioners vote in favor of the tax break it would continue to violate the civil and human rights of all residents exposed to toxic chemicals.
Heather Benac said: “The city commission needs to listen to the many concerned citizens who have repeatedly called and emailed asking not to approve further tax breaks for this polluting and racist society. The municipal commission must put people’s lives and health before corporate profits.
Several others have spoken out against tax breaks.
Jill Bland of Southwestern Michigan First was the only one to call in to express her support for the tax break for GPI. Bland said Southwest Michigan First worked with local governments, the state of Michigan, and GPI, on a package put in place in 2019 that included the reduction. She mentioned a survey of health problems in the area.
Related: Asthma kills the Kalamazoo family living near a stinking factory. Now the state is investigating asthma in the neighborhood.
“Graphic Packaging has worked with city, state and federal agencies to better understand the potential health issues associated with air quality issues,” said Bland.
The company said it will remain committed to staying at the table and working with these groups for the long term, Bland said.
“We appreciate your consideration and sending a positive message to the business community that a strong business partner is welcome at Kalamazoo,” said Bland.
Monday’s action comes after the city’s initial tax reduction plan was only partially approved.
In September 2020, the city commission approved a tax abatement of $ 1.6 million, spread over 12 years, for GPI which required odor reduction targets within a specific time frame. But the Michigan State Treasury Department informed the city that it could not agree to a plan that relied on odor reduction criteria.
Related: Rotten stench-causing paper mill gets approval for conditional tax break
The state only approved a year of tax relief, forcing the city commission to reconsider the issue this fall.
The one-year rebate for the GPI approved by the Municipal Commission on Monday is an extension of the existing one-year tax rebate.
The plan includes the creation of a steering committee to strike a community benefits agreement, Kalamazoo City Attorney Clyde Robinson said.
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