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Published: Tuesday, 9/19/2006

ConAgra Foods' exit to affect wastewater plant costs, schools

BY JANE SCHMUCKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

ARCHBOLD, Ohio - ConAgra Foods Inc.'s closing in Archbold might continue to affect village residents even after many of the company's nearly 400 employees find new jobs.

The village is in the midst of a $5.4 million wastewater treatment plant expansion. Work was about 40 percent done when ConAgra announced on Thursday that it plans in January to close the Archbold plant that makes Healthy Choice soup and La Choy products.

The wastewater plant expansion never would have been started if village leaders had known ConAgra was leaving. ConAgra uses about half of the current wastewater treatment plant's capacity and pays 60 percent of its revenues - last year its bill was almost $700,000 - because its waste requires extra treatment.

Archbold Village Administrator Dennis Howell and other village employees yesterday were studying whether to recommend to village council that it increase water and sewer rates for all customers in the village because of ConAgra's departure.

The village also will lose about $270,000 a year in revenue from its 1.5 percent income tax paid by about 370 ConAgra employees. The village's total income tax revenue was more than $4.7 million last year.

"Nobody takes a $270,000 hit and doesn't change anything," Mr. Howell said.

More repercussions are likely to follow.

The announcement "certainly isn't going to help" the Archbold Area Local School District's 4.91-mill, five-year emergency operating levy on the Nov. 7 ballot, said Jack Graf, president of the Fulton County Commissioners.

"Definitely it would play into that," he said of voters' decision on the levy request, which asks for an extra $150 a year from the owner of a $100,000, owner-occupied house. That's about half the size of requests that voters denied in August and May.

No matter what happens with the levy, the schools are likely to feel the impact of ConAgra's departure, school board president David Yoder said.

Archbold Area Local is to receive $297,000 of ConAgra's more than $465,000 personal property tax bill, due tomorrow.

If ConAgra closes in January, the district would get about $111,000 instead next year from the Ohio Department of Taxation. And that's only because of a measure that provides for reimbursement to schools and local government, based on 2004 personal property tax values, as Ohio transitions from personal property taxes to the new Commercial Activity Tax. If it weren't for that, the district would not get any personal property taxes from the ConAgra plant as long as it is vacant.

Real estate taxes for the plant are $161,641 a year with the majority - almost $96,000 - going to Archbold schools.

In Perrysburg Township, where ConAgra is closing a plant that employs 165 workers making pudding products, the personal property tax bill is higher than for the Archbold plant.

Almost $530,000 is due to the Wood County auditor on Oct. 20. Of that amount, about $330,000 will go to Rossford Exempted Village School District, $77,000 to Perrysburg Township, and $42,000 to Wood County Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities.

Perrysburg Township Administrator John Hrosko was optimistic that the plant on Glenwood Road off State Rt. 795 would find a new occupant. It has changed hands several times in recent years.

Contact Jane Schmucker at:

jschmucker@theblade.com

or 419-337-7780.



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