City pulls Monsanto tax break

Officials: Residents outcry caused second look; company’s plans uncertain

After significant public opposition to a Monsanto project in Greenwood, city officials will no longer consider a tax break for the agriculture company, but whether Monsanto still plans to come to Greenwood is not known.

Monsanto had proposed leasing a 140,000-square-foot building in Greenwood as a location to redistribute seeds for testing and to store farm equipment. The company requested a 10-year, $1.6 million tax break on $28.7 million of research, manufacturing and information technology equipment, according to tax break documents filed with the city.

As soon as residents learned of the company’s plans at the beginning of June, public opposition to the company was swift.

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Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers said he had received more than 25 emails in opposition to the project in just the past several days, and that the increasing amount of public opposition himself, city staff and the city council received was why he decided to withdraw the tax break request on Thursday.

Messages left for a Monsanto spokesperson were not returned on Friday.

Greenwood City Council President Mike Campbell said he received daily emails and messages from residents opposed to Monsanto.

The messages ranged from short — a four-word email with the message of “Say no to Monsanto” — to much lengthier treatises against the company. Campbell said the amount of anti-Monsanto messages sent to him was similar to the amount of opposition the city received over the plans for the Iceplex to be constructed in Freedom Park.

The concerns from residents centered on what they perceived as Monsanto’s negative reputation and the concern that Monsanto would eventually expand its operations in Greenwood into activities that could harm or pollute the environment, Campbell said.

Nothing about Monsanto’s project indicated there would be any threat to the environment, and Monsanto had volunteered to meet with the public to address those concerns, Myers said.

The decision to withdraw the tax break was because the number of jobs and amount of tax revenue Monsanto would bring didn’t outweigh the controversy surrounding the company, he said.

The facility would have employed six to 10 people with a salary range of $60,000 to $90,000. An additional 70 temporary, seasonal workers were planned to be hired when the facility opened, though that number was to drop to 20 by 2020, the Monsanto tax break request documents said.

Monsanto planned to lease a building that is proposed to be developed by Becknell Industrial, a Carmel-based real estate firm. Last month, Becknell announced plans to construct a 140,000-square-foot building for a then-undisclosed tenant. The redevelopment commission approved a 10-year, $1.4 million property tax break for the $8.7 million building.

The city council voted unanimously in favor of the tax break in its first vote but will need to vote once more to approve the tax break for that building.

Redevelopment commission president Brent Tilson said in hindsight, the city should have asked more questions about what Monsanto’s plans were. He would not have supported the project had he been fully aware that no research was taking place at the facility, he said.

“That is why there is a multi-staged process not done in one fell swoop,” Tilson said. “I think the checks and balances in this project worked.”

However, both Campbell and Myers said that a tax break was appropriate for the project, but not in a situation where residents were opposed to a company coming to Greenwood.

While support for the project was initially unanimous, questions soon arose as to what exactly Monsanto was going to be doing at the facility and whether it would have any negative impacts on the environment.

Listening to residents’ concerns was the right decision, Campbell said.

“We appreciate the feedback from the citizens,” he said. “We do take that into consideration.”

Questions had been raised about whether the company had filed the tax break request appropriately, given that no research was set to happen even though the company had told the city that it was purchasing $15 million in research and development equipment.

Monsanto clarified that the equipment listed as research and development was actually to be used for advanced automation of its seed distribution, and that while no research was happening at the facility, it was still part of Monsanto’s research and development section.

To allay concerns about whether the tax break had been filed correctly under Indiana law, Monsanto agreed to correct and resubmit its tax break application.

Whether Monsanto still plans to come to Greenwood isn’t clear. Myers, Campbell and Tilson said they didn’t know the company’s plans.

The future of the Becknell warehouse is also unknown. Pat Sherman, a local accountant representing the company, was unable to be reached for comment Friday.

Tilson said he would expect the Becknell project to continue to go forward with the developer looking for another tenant.

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Jacob Tellers is a reporter at the Daily Journal. He can be reached at jtellers@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2702.