Council delays abatement deliberation

The Bartholomew County Council has approved declaring all unincorporated areas of Bartholomew County an economic revitalization area.

It’s the first step required to provide a 20-year, 95% tax abatement to Hoosier Networks, LLC, owned by Meridiam Infrastructure North America Corp. In return, Hoosier Networks will create a fiber-to-home network that reaches more than 80% of the county’s residences, Bartholomew County Broadband Initiative Committee Chairman Tony London said.

While the deal also calls for Bartholomew County government providing $4 million from federal COVID-19 relief funds, Meridiam officials plan to invest about $33 million of their own money into the project, said London, who is also a county commissioner.

At the request of council member Matt Miller, the council did not discuss a requested tax abatement Tuesday because of a 10-day mandatory waiting period after the revitalization area is approved before tax relief can be requested.

The revitalization area request will have a second and final vote in September. If approved at that time, the council will begin discussing abatements, council President Greg Duke said.

While several Indiana communities, including Columbus, have signed up with Hoosier Networks for the same service, Bartholomew will be the first county in Indiana that Meridiam will work with to provide complete county-wide coverage, London said.

But the tax abatement is a requirement to make that a reality. Due to the small population density, it simply doesn’t pay back the fiber optic provider in a timely fashion – even with the $4 million being provided by the county, the commissioner said.

Prior to the meeting, Duke said Brown County had installed a countywide fiber cable infrastructure without use of public money. In response, London said both Brown and Jackson counties agreed to give their providers a 100% lifetime exemption from personal property taxes linked to the investment.

The council was also informed that AT&T is doing a project similar to what is proposed locally in rural Vanderburgh County.

The difference is that county officials in the Evansville area are putting up $10 million, instead of $4 million, London said. In addition, AT&T is also getting a permanent 100% exemption from personal property taxes on their investment.

“The fact that Meridiam is willing to do this at a 95% exemption for 20 years shows they want to be a participant in our community because (local government) is going to be getting money – even with the tax abatement,” London said.

Under the proposed arrangement, Hoosier Networks will be paying 5% of their personal property taxes, which London estimated would eventually amount to about $10,000 annually.

“But right now, we’re getting no tax money. And if we deny them tax abatement, we’ll still get no tax money,” London said.

Prior to the meeting, a few council members talked about how the requested tax abatement wasn’t bringing in new permanent jobs.

But in his presentation, London asked the council “how often do you get to talk about an abatement that is going to help thousands of people in your county? I mean, that’s unbelievable.”

In terms of economic development, countywide broadband internet service would also set Bartholomew County apart in enticing companies to locate here, he added.

He also emphasized that creating a economic revitalization area does not give anybody a tax abatement. Those seeking tax breaks of that kind must still come before the county council and request it.