The Herald News, Friday, November 14, 2014 – Page A1

Fall River – Beginning with the roll call to record the presence of all nine city councilors and ending with a motion made to adjourn, Thursday night’s special meeting to approve a tax exemption agreement with the Internet retail giant Amazon lasted all of two minutes and 25 seconds.

Amazon is looking to construct a million-square-foot fulfillment center in the city’s South Coast Life Sciences and Technology Park.

City Clerk Alison Bouchard had barely finished reading aloud the agenda item pertaining to the agreement – known as a Tax Incentive Finance Agreement, or TIF – before the council motioned to adopt it.

Discussion did not follow, and the vote to adopt was unanimous. That vote was followed by another unanimous vote to table a discussion and vote on financial orders.

Kenneth Fiola Jr., executive vice president of the Fall River Office of Economic Development, said he had prepared a presentation that ultimately was not delivered to the council.

“I was prepared, if necessary,” Fiola said, explaining that he had responded to questions from city councilors in the week leading up to the meeting.

The duration of the tax exemption is 15 years, starting with fiscal 2018 – which begins July 1, 2017 – and it applies to both real and personal property taxes. During the first four years of that agreement, from 2018-21, Amazon will receive 100 percent exemptions from both taxes. Those exemptions slide down to 75 percent for the subsequent three years 2022-24, 50 percent for the four years that follow, and 25 percent for the final four years of the agreement, 2029-32.

The estimated required investment from Amazon to build the facility is $200 million. The project would be built on 91 acres in both Fall River and Freetown. City officials have said it is expected to create more than 1,000 new jobs for the region.

Fiola said the matter now goes to Freetown voters, who will be asked to approve a similar TIF during a special Town Meeting scheduled for next Wednesday.

Fiola said Freetown Board of Selectmen Chairwoman Lisa Pacheco has asked him to present during that meeting.

If Freetown voters approve the TIF, the matter is then expected to go before the state Economic Assistance Coordinating Council, which would take up approval of a state tax exemption agreement at its Dec. 17 meeting.

Fiola said the Freetown Board of Selectmen appears supportive of the agreement, which was adopted unanimously by the town’s TIF board.

“I think it’s going to be huge for the region. To be able to say you have Amazon as part of your corporate community is a win – for the commonwealth as well,” Fiola said.

“It’s outstanding that we were able to pass a TIF agreement this evening,” Mayor Will Flanagan said after the vote. “It puts us one step closer to putting a shovel in the ground.”

City councilors echoed Flanagan’s comments.

Council President Joseph Camara explained the brevity of the meeting.

“I think all the councilors had been briefed. There was no need for an extended meeting,” Camara said.

“I think most people’s minds were already made up,” Councilor Ray Mitchell said. “This is something you had to vote for.”

Mitchell called the proposed project a “game-changer” and “a step in the right direction.”

“I’m just eager to get this project moving because our people need jobs, and an empty piece of land isn’t bringing any jobs,” Councilor Linda Pereira said after the meeting.

“Our TIF does not guarantee Amazon is coming, but we are one step closer,” she said.

“How generous is generous when you have a community with the unemployment rate we have? Now they have the income to live a quality of life to perhaps go out for dinner. Are we being generous or are we trying to give people the quality they deserve?” Pereira added.

But not everyone in attendance was so optimistic, and a brief argument broke out between some attendees and city councilors.

C.J. Ferry, one of the leaders of the ongoing effort to recall Flanagan from office, criticized the TIF and prior tax exemption agreements, saying “there has not been a TIF that’s been generated that’s guaranteed Fall River anything.”

“This is Fall River politics at its best,” Ferry said.

By Michael Gagne
Email: mgagne@heraldnews.com