The Herald News, Friday, November 7, 2014 – Page A1

Fall River – The city’s Tax Increment Financing Board unanimously gave the thumbs up for a proposed TIF agreement with giant Internet retailer Amazon.com. The proposal now goes to the City Council for its approval, likely by next week.

The 15-year tax exemption agreement on both real and personal property tax would begin on July 1, 2017, which begins fiscal 2018, said Kenneth Fiola Jr., executive vice president of the Fall River Office of Economic Development, in a presentation to TIF board members.

The TIF board members are Mayor Will Flanagan, Fall River Office of Economic Development Board President Frank Marchione, Board of Assessors Chairman Richard Gonsalves, City Administrator Cathy Ann Viveiros, City Council President Joseph Camara and City Councilors Michael Miozza and Jasiel Correia II.

FROED has been brokering the deal since May 2012, although it was confirmed only several weeks ago that they were negotiating with Amazon, Fiola said.

Under the draft TIF agreement, during the first four years from 2018 to 2021, Amazon will receive a 100 percent exemption for both real and personal property; 75 percent exemption from 2022 to 2024; 50 percent from 2025 to 2028; and 25 percent from 2029 to 2032.

Fiola said he didn’t yet have hard numbers of the value of the exemptions but ventured that it could be approximately $100 million.

Amazon plans to build a million-square-foot fulfillment center on 91 acres in the South Coast Life Sciences and Technology Park, with an investment of $200 million to construct and equip the facility.

Sixty acres is located in Fall River, and 31 acres is located in Freetown.

“I can tell you right now, as we stand here today, this is the only land Amazon is looking at in Massachusetts,” Fiola told the board members.

The city will receive taxes annually on the base value of the land, worth $5.3 million. Fiola said he estimated the land taxes would bring in about $96,000 in annual revenue.

Council President Joseph Camara noted that Amazon will not be exempt from the stormwater fee.

The Fall River Redevelopment Authority, which owns the park, has been negotiating with Amazon on the land sale, Fiola said.

The Freetown Board of Selectmen, according to Fiola, has approved a similar TIF agreement and scheduled a special Town Meeting on Nov. 19 for voter approval.

In a letter of intent sent to both communities from Amazon, which ranks 35th among the top Fortune 500 companies, the global conglomerate indicated the giant facility would create 1,000 full-time jobs with an average annual starting pay of $35,000, plus benefits. In addition, Amazon would hire for hundreds of part-time and temporary jobs.

Amazon’s obligation, according to the agreement, is it will hit a targeted goal of 1,000 permanent jobs by June 20, 2019, and work with the Bristol County Workforce Investment Board and other local employment agencies.

If Amazon doesn’t meet its employment and development obligations, or leaves the facility, it will owe the city the exempted taxes.

Fiola said residents of Fall River and Freetown will be given first priority for employment as long as they qualify. Amazon requires potential employees to be 18 years old and have a high school diploma.

In addition, Flanagan said, local companies will also be given first priority for construction of the complex and services.

Miozza questioned the tax-exemption schedule, asking why the highest percentages shouldn’t be at the end of the 15 years to ensure Amazon stays in the area.

Fiola said the agreement was modeled on other large tax deals.

“From their perspective, they’ve just laid out $200 million,” Fiola said. “I think it’s a pretty fair agreement.”

Fiola noted that the deal would bring in 1,000 jobs paying an average of $35,000, which means an additional $35 million would be “circulated in the area.”

Amazon has also filed an application for a tax exemption deal with the Massachusetts Economic Assistance Coordinating Council, which will address the issue during its Dec. 17 meeting, Fiola said. He said it should be the last step toward closing the deal.

Flanagan has said he hopes to have the deal with Amazon sealed by Christmas.

If the deal between Amazon, the city and Freetown is reached, the company plans to begin construction the first quarter of 2015, and fulfillment center would be fully operational by the second half of 2016.