WESTFIELD – On a vote of 10 to 3 on Oct. 21, the City Council extended a tax break for James Hardie Building Products at 70 Turnpike Industrial Road, from the original five-year term granted in 2019 to a seven-year term.
Tax increment financing, or TIF, is a a financial tool used by local governments to encourage economic development. It allows a company to expand its operations or develop a property without having to pay the increased property taxes resulting from the increase in assessed value for a certain period of time.
Ward 6 Councilor William Onyski, who presented a 3-0 positive recommendation from the Legislative and Ordinance Committee, said the company asked to modify the TIF agreement because it did not immediately undertake the expansion it envisioned in 2019, but is now planning an even bigger one. He said there is an existing 235,000-square foot building at the site that the company has owned for three years, and the plan calls for a 45,000-square foot addition. The company is now planning to invest $50 million in the project, up from $18 million.
Onyski said the new plan also adds 65 jobs, an increase from the 25 jobs originally planned. Over a nine-year period, the company would pay over $5.3 million in taxes, though the TIF would exempt it from a further $2.2 million, he said.
“We all felt, myself included, that having 65 jobs rather than 25 was a big deal for Westfield. It’s taking existing property that was already there and reusing it, so instead of cutting down trees and building a new building, they’re taking an existing building. They’re also bringing in a rail spur that wasn’t there before, that will help with the traffic,” Onyski said, adding, “We’ve gone through all the details two years ago. Right now, they’re looking for the TIF to be extended to seven years.”
At-large Councilor Cindy C. Harris said she had attended the L&O meeting, which she said was excellent and asked very appropriate questions. She said she would not, however, support the TIF.
“This company is a multinational billionaire company,” Harris said. “It’s their right to ask for a TIF. When they came in 2019, I was the sole ‘no’ vote. I will continue to be the ‘no’ vote. I’ve never voted for a TIF in eight years. And I must also add that they are going to have 50 to 60 trucks coming in, 24 hours a day.”
At-large Councilor Kristen Mello said she would support the councilor on her left, referring to Harris. She said when she looked into the company, she found it had a legacy of waste asbestos contamination in Australia. She suggested that the proposal be sent to the council’s Natural Resources Committee, though the amendment was not formally made and seconded.
Ward 5 Councilor John J. Beltrandi III said he was not usually in favor of TIFs, either, but felt this would be a “great reuse of a property that’s been vacant for a long time, and an international company that is going to invest a lot in this community.” Beltrandi also said that bringing in the rail spur would lessen the traffic, and added that the previous property owner had generated a lot of truck traffic at the site.
“I’m going to vote in favor too, I did a couple of years ago,” said at-large Councilor Dave Flaherty. “I just want to point out this is a guaranteed commitment of employment, local employment. They are guaranteeing a certain amount of investment, $50 million over three years, and they’re generating twice as much revenue to the city as we’re giving them in tax breaks, which is the completely opposite perception of the thing we just passed,” he added, referring to the Servistar Realties Data Center payment in lieu of taxes plan passed earlier in the same meeting.
“It’s great that this company is doing this. Many other companies in this town have TIFs,” Flaherty said, citing C&S, Home Depot, Lowes and Prolamina. “They always had a promise of employment and some payback for the city. It’s important that when we grant TIFs that we’re getting something out of it. What we just did, I don’t think does that, but in this case, congratulations to James Hardie.”
Ward 4 Michael Burns, who serves on L&O, clarified that James Hardie wouldn’t be opening until 2023.
Onyski said work has been done moving the project forward, noting that the city discontinued a street in the area, and agreements were made with Westfield Gas & Electric. The vote was then taken, with Harris, Mello and Ward 1 Councilor Nicholas J. Morganelli Jr. voting no.