FREMONT, Neb. — Opponents of a $275 million chicken processing plant in Fremont made another unsuccessful effort to derail the project Tuesday night.
The Fremont City Council approved a raft of incentives for retailer Costco, offsetting some of the proposed cost of building the facility south of town.
The 7-0 vote followed another contentious public discussion of the plant, with more than an hour of comments from people mostly opposed to the project and the incentives.
Fremont resident Ken Heatherly took aim at the $1.35 million in local incentives the city will provide Costco.
A million-dollar development incentive is a “rounding error,” Heatherly said, for a big corporation like Costco, with $2.4 billion in annual profit. But for Fremont it could help recruit several other businesses that would diversify the local economy. The money will come from local sales taxes and utility revenue.
City and economic development officials defended the $1.35 million in grants to Costco, along with other parts of an economic development package that they said helped entice Costco to choose Fremont over competing locations.
“They’re investing in us, we need to invest in them,” City Councilwoman Susan Jacobus said. She said the grants are small relative to the size of Costco’s investment in Fremont.
Cecilia Harry of the Greater Fremont Development Council said the sales tax fund still would have more than $1 million for other projects. It has distributed $850,000 to three other businesses since 2014.
Those include Sycamore Leaf Solutions, whose founder, Glen Ellis, told the council that Costco is reaching its hand into the city’s pocket.
Addressing Costco representatives, he said, to whistles and applause from the crowd, “If you’re going to be a good corporate citizen to Fremont, turn it down.”
But City Councilwoman Ellen Janssen said the fund can help businesses of all sizes.
“We don’t want to get a reputation of being anti-successful business,” she said.
The council also approved $18.3 million in tax-increment financing in addition to a separate $2 million economic development incentive approved earlier for utilities work.
The City Council also approved revisions to its redevelopment agreement with Costco, reflecting changes to the project timeline, an increase in plant size and the increased TIF, which is up from $13.5 million originally approved.
TIF is a way of using future property tax revenue to pay for public infrastructure associated with private development.
The total cost of Costco’s project would be $275 million, up from $180 million as first proposed.
The city also approved “clawback” provisions for the $2 million incentive. Costco agreed to operate its plant for at least 15 years and to meet yearly minimum utility consumption requirements, or it will repay some or all of the incentive.
The city also approved an agreement in which Costco would reimburse the city’s cost for an outside firm to review and approve building plans for the project, up to $41,661.
The $1.35 million in local economic development grants can be used for property acquisition, construction and equipment purchases. The grants are technically loans, but Costco won’t have to repay principal or interest as long as it meets milestones for capital investment and job creation.
Costco said the project will create up to 1,000 jobs. Up to 820 of those involve production work starting at $15 an hour. About 100 jobs will be supervisory or professional, paying between $45,000 and $350,000 a year.
Costco aims to open the plant by March 2019.
Other residents spoke Tuesday in opposition to the plant and affiliated chicken farms throughout the region on the grounds that they could pollute air and water. Jacobus said regulations are in place to protect the environment and said concerned residents should take up zoning questions with their local counties.