EBRO — The Ebro Town Council discussed expanding its Enterprise Zone Thursday night during a public hearing, while Vernon City Council is set to take up the topic again on Monday.
The Vernon City Council will decide whether or not to allow expansion of its existing Enterprise Zone down Moss Hill Road in an attempt to make the city more attractive to industry.
An Enterprise Zone is a state-created area for industrial or commercial development that offers incentives to businesses in order to create jobs. Those incentives include jobs creation tax credits, electrical energy tax credits, sales tax refunds for jobs creation and building materials, property tax credits for jobs creation and sales tax refunds for business equipment and machinery.
Last year the state Legislature passed a new law allowing counties to expand their Enterprise Zones, and Washington County will be allowed to expand its areas by three miles, which Washington County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ted Everett plans to divide evenly between Ebro and Vernon.
Everett visited the Vernon council’s workshop on Monday to discuss possible expansion plans for Vernon’s Enterprise Zone as well.
Currently the city has its Enterprise Zone located mainly along Highway 79. Everett suggested the city council consider extending the zone an additional 1 ¾ mile, the amount by which he hopes to expand the zone, along Mossy Hill Road toward the high school.
Councilman Tray Hawkins explained that the school district owns property behind the school’s campus, which could potentially be purchased by the city and used as an industrial site.
“We are the only community along the north-south corridor that isn’t bridge limited,” Hawkins said. “We have great potential as an industrial site, and we already have water utilities in place, which gives us a great advantage.”
The Vernon City Council will meet at 7 p.m. Monday at City Hall.
Thursday, Everett was in Ebro, discussing possible Enterprise Zone expansion with members of the town council, who seemed less certain about the benefits of an expanded Enterprise Zone than their Vernon counterparts.
In Ebro, Everett suggested the expansion be made east along Highway 20, but council members voiced concerns about the many waterways in and around Ebro and the negative impact development could have on the environment.
“Because of the waterways and Karst formations, there are a lot of places here industry couldn’t build,” Everett said. “Besides, the state Department of Evironmental Protection wouldn’t let them build there.”
Everett told both councils that he had an engineering firm prepared to do the initial studies at no cost to the towns.
“So this will be no cost to the city?” asked Councilman Charles Scott.
“No sir, it won’t cost the city a dime,” Everett said. “Just because we designate an Enterprise Zone, doesn’t even mean there will be anything built on it. It’s just something we have to have if we expect to grow in the future.”
Everett said the Enterprise Zone does not change the current zoning of a property, but does allow for that commercial or industrial usage in the future.
“We’re not going to come out and change your zoning, and your taxes aren’t going to go up,” he said.
The town council decided to meet again at 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 7 to further discuss possible ways of expanding the Enterprise Zone with Everett and the engineers.
“It will probably take a couple of workshops to determine the boundary lines,” Everett said.