A majority of the Washington County Commissioners court is in favor of the county’s participation in a sales tax abatement for the planned retail development on Highway 290 in Brenham.

Commissioners issued a 3-1 vote at their meeting this (Tuesday) morning, with Commissioner Kirk Hanath voting against the agreement.

This agreement, which was entered into by the City of Brenham in January, will reimburse developer Baker Katz $6 million in sales taxes from its planned shopping center on Highway 290 and Chappell Hill Street.

By the county issuing approval, it will be responsible for roughly $2 million of that reimbursement, with the City of Brenham contributing $4 million.

Hanath said this item has become a bit of a “political hot potato”, but stressed that everyone on the court appreciates Baker Katz bringing this project to Washington County. He reiterated this vote was not concerning whether or not the court wants the project here, but merely a tax abatement for the project.

Hanath likened these types of economic development projects to playing chess, saying “you have to be several moves ahead of your opponents” when it comes to attracting and getting development to the community. He continued by saying future growth lies upon the working class, saying it “oils the wheels of economic development”.

Hanath said the term “progressive” has been used as a label for the project, which he didn’t necessarily understand, citing stats from the U.S. Census Bureau showing heavily increasing Internet sales. He said, if this project were truly progressive, it would take into account the Internet process.

Hanath thanked County Judge John Durrenberger for his handling of this situation, which he said has been “quite phenomenal”. He said Durrenberger gave the court time to review documents, ask questions, and to get all of its concerns answered.

Hanath also offered a suggestion for Brenham city officials: inform the county early on of projects like this, so time doesn’t have to be spent working on a “Plan B” in case the plan does not follow through.

Commissioner Joy Fuchs said the court has done its due diligence in research, and expressed frustration at how the final agreement was given to the court just before session began.

Fuchs said the “bickering and non-communication” the county has been accused of goes both ways between the city and the county.

Fuchs said the county doesn’t want to be “the stepchild included at the end”, where the city approves the agreement before the county even sees it. She said, while some people may think the city taking over economic duties is a “wonderful thing”, it isn’t when people don’t work together.  She said she wants this county to progress, and believes the county moved beyond the “bickering” years ago.

Fuchs added she was only in favor of signing into the agreement because of just the sales tax being rebated. She stated the value of the vacant land purchased by Baker Katz at $1.19 million, and the tax the county would receive each year is $6,193.  According to Fuchs, if Baker Katz built $20 or $30 million buildings, property taxes would be heavily increased.  If the property tax were being abated, she said she would likely say no to the agreement.

Commission Don Koester said the county will benefit from this development in the long run, as while it may not get much in the way of sales tax revenue, it will collect property tax revenue.

A member from the audience, Alan Hudson, argued that this development won’t bring in “meaningful jobs” to the community, as these jobs will likely be lower-paying and catered towards high school and college students. He added these incoming stores won’t have the same choice or variety in their inventory as they would in bigger cities.

Hudson also said he was in favor of government equality, believing if the county offered a rebate to this company, it should have offered one to any other company.

Also in court, commissioners:

  • Approved a memo of agreement between the county and Baylor Scott and White Medical Center – College Station, to supply Washington County EMS with blood products during patient transport.  EMS Director Kevin Deramus said the county had a similar agreement with College Station Medical Center which had been in place since 2012, before it ceased in January.
  • Approved the bond for Reserve Deputy Sheriff Damon Wegner.  Washington County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Jay Petrash said Wegner will stay on as a reserve until the Sheriff’s Office trains a replacement for him.  Wegner is retiring from the Sheriff’s Office, effective on the 31st.
  • Appointed John Barton as co-chairman of the Washington County Historical Commission.
  • Approved the County Engineer to accept the 2019 annual seal coat bid.
  • Approved Natural Gas Pipeline’s crossing of Old Mill Creek Road (near Hohenwalde School Road), Boehnemann Road (near Hohenwalde and Willow Springs Roads), Adamek Road, and Beckermann Road, as proposed by AMP Intrastate Pipelines, LLC.
  • Approved the County Information Resources Agency services agreement for technology services from CIRA
  • Approved the Affordable Care Act Reporting and Tracking Service 2019 Renewal Confirmation Program Agreement.
  • Heard a series of monthly reports from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, EMS, E-911, Veterans Service Officer, Road and Bridge, and Information Technology.
  • Approved a subdivision variance request for land on Spreen Road in Precinct 3.
  • Approved an amending plat for Zionsville Estates, a subdivision fronting Helm Road and Maass Road in Precinct 3.
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