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Published: 9/19/2006

Wood County makes its tax pitch to Bass Pro

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

BOWLING GREEN - Leaving themselves room to negotiate, the Wood County commissioners yesterday agreed to offer Bass Pro Outdoor World an eight-year, 50 percent rebate on county sales tax paid at the company's proposed development in Rossford.

The proposal, along with a letter indicating commissioners were "looking forward to constructive negotiations," was emailed to Bass Pro yesterday, said County Administrator Andrew Kalmar.

Commissioner Tim Brown suggested the 50 percent rebate. It is less than the 75 percent refund the county could offer over 10 years under a special Ohio law approved specifically to attract Bass Pro to northwest Ohio. The megasports retailer has options to purchase about 200 acres in the Crossroads of America development where I-75 and the Ohio Turnpike intersect for a proposed $50 million retail store, restaurant, marine dealership, and education center.

Mr. Brown said the county has invested about $250,000 in infrastructure costs in the Crossroads and some of the property-tax revenue from the site could be diverted to pay for further improvements if Rossford negotiates a tax increment financing plan with Bass Pro.

His fellow commissioners agreed.

"Fifty percent seems to be a reasonable number to me," Commissioner Jim Carter said.

"I think 50 percent over eight years is workable," Commissioner Alvie Perkins said. "You can negotiate, and I suspect they will."

For Bass Pro to qualify for a sales tax rebate, it had to show it planned to invest at least $50 million, set aside 10 percent of its square footage for educational and exhibit space, maintain at least 150 full-time equivalent employees, and draw more than half of its visitors from at least 100 miles away. State law says such a rebate could be offered for up to 10 years or until the re-tailer recovered its construction and development costs.

The commissioners and Mr. Kalmar along with County Auditor Mike Sibbersen, Chief Deputy Auditor Irma Wolf, and Tom Blaha, executive director of the Wood County Economic Development Commission, met with county Prosecutor Ray Fischer yesterday to review a proposal for Bass Pro that Mr. Fischer had drafted.

It outlined the company's obligations to annually report its level of investment in Rossford, the number and type of employees it would have there, and the amount of county sales tax that would be collected at the store.

Unlike all other retailers in the county, Bass Pro would be required to report its sales receipts to the county, which would be responsible for rebating part of the county's sales tax each quarter to Bass Pro.

"This is quite new - them sharing [sales] information is something we haven't done in the past," Mr. Sibbersen said.

In 2005, Wood County collected nearly $14.9 million from its 1 percent sales tax, but officials have no way of knowing how much sales tax was generated by individual merchants, Mr. Sibbersen said.

Wood County's proposal for Bass Pro would require the company to report how many employees and taxable assets it relocates to Rossford from another facility in Ohio.

Bass Pro would not be allowed to relocate more than 10 full-time equivalent positions and $2 million in taxable assets from another Ohio store during the term of the sales tax rebate agreement.

The proposal states that if Bass Pro violated the terms of the agreement, county commissioners could "amend this agreement to reduce the percentage or term, or both, of the payments Bass Pro is entitled to receive under the agreement."

After yesterday's meeting, Mr. Blaha said that from his experience, he would expect Bass Pro to request the full 75 percent, 10-year sales tax rebate, but he understands the commissioners' strategy.

"That's how negotiations work," he said. "I think it's important that the commissioners be seen by their constituents as trying to get the best possible deal for the county."

Rossford Administrator Ed Ciecka said city officials have had "a very preliminary discussion" with Bass Pro about a tax increment financing agreement, which would take property taxes from the increased value of the property and use it for specific public improvements at the site, such as roads and storm sewers.

"We don't know what improvements would be necessary, and I don't think they're in a position of discussing that because they don't have it designed," Mr. Ciecka said.

Rossford could allow up to 75 percent of the property taxes on the increased valuation of the property to be part of the tax increment financing plan for up to 10 years. The Rossford schools and Penta Career Center would have to be reimbursed for their share of the tax revenue, though.

Mr. Blaha said he believed Bass Pro was prepared to move forward "as soon as possible."

Officials at the company, based in Springfield, Mo., have said little publicly about the Rossford project.

"We are still negotiating, and everything is coming together," Bass Pro's Larry Whiteley said last week. "We certainly appreciate everyone's support, enthusiasm, and interest."

Contact Jennifer Feehan

at jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.



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