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Norstam asks council for tax relief

The Harrison County Council heard a tax abatement request Monday night from officials from Norstam Veneers Inc., the hardwood lumber and veneer plant near Mauckport that was destroyed by fire a little more than a year ago.
Danny Utz, human resource director for the company, is concerned about the rise in property taxes after the completion of the new plant. Its updated amenities likely will boost the assessed value by five or six times the pre-fire amount, he said.
Utz said he hopes the council will consider an abatement on everything more than the previous assessed value.
Darrell Voelker, Harrison County Economic Development Corp. director, said the new structure will be assessed at $3 million, compared to $460,000 for the old building.
‘It would be a shame to have an empty building,’ Utz said. ‘That’s a scary truth.’
The long road back to recovery could not have even started without county help, Utz said. For 30 years, the plant was virtually unprotected from fire. After the plant was destroyed, Utz said it would be ‘insane’ for the company to rebuild the plant without an adequate water line.
The $1.2 million 12-inch water line project is running ahead of schedule, Voelker said.
The county council and commissioners last April approved $900,000 for the line, with Norstam and other funding sources covering the remainder.
‘We had to get that taken care of,’ Utz said. ‘We have plenty of protection, and we appreciate it.’
A $200,000 sprinkler system has also been installed, and each wood structure on the site has been, or will be, replaced. Utz said representatives from Heth Township Volunteer and Brandenburg fire departments have visited the site and were amazed with the upgrades.
‘The fire destroyed us and the economy pulled the rug out from under us,’ Utz said. ‘It’s a very hard issue. ‘ I don’t call this a bailout; I call it a hardship.’
Before any decision can be made on a tax abatement, the council must conduct a public hearing to declare the area under economic revitalization. The hearing is set for Monday, March 9, at 7 p.m., at the council’s next regular meeting at the Harrison County Court House in Corydon.
In other business, the council approved $2 million for property tax reduction through the three county public schools.
Before voting, Councilwoman Leslie Robertson asked Commissioner Chairman James Goldman how the board came up with the $2 million figure. Goldman said capped riverboat funds diminish the board’s buying power with riverboat gaming funds year after year because of inflation.
‘We felt like that’s all we could justify,’ he said.
Goldman added that everything paid for with riverboat funds is a savings to the taxpayer. He said he also fears the state may take away the gaming funds if too much of it is used for tax relief for the citizens instead of infrastructure.
Councilman Jim Heitkemper asked if Goldman would consider raising the amount to $3 million.
‘We already brought you what we want to bring,’ Goldman said.
Heitkemper then made the motion to approve the $2 million, which passed unanimously.
The council also unanimously approved $50,000 for utilities at the old Harrison County Hospital in Corydon and $2,000 for council travel and per-diem meals, both out of the county general fund.
Out of the riverboat gaming funds, the council unanimously approved $118,979, for the Corydon-Ramsey/Sival roads intersection project; $108,321, for Emergency Medical Services 2008 shortfall; $150,000 for furthering youth at the Gerdon Youth Center in Corydon; $25,000 for Comfort House; and $208,000 for Harrison County Community Services.
The council also approved, with a 4-2 vote, $163,430.75, for seven new police cruisers for the sheriff’s department. Heitkemper and William T. (Bill) Nichols voted against. The motion excluded a requested sports utility vehicle. But, the council tabled a request of just more than $351,000 for equipment for the vehicles, seeking a clarified number after the SUV was taken out of the request.