By passing the Freeport referendum, Emerson voters are allowing the city council to exempt a manufacturer’s inventory from property taxation. The exemption percentage can range from 20 percent to a full 100 percent exemption, and it is often a factor in a business’s decision in where to place a new plant or warehouse.
The Freeport exemption became important this year after Emerson passed its 2 mill increase to its millage rate. Before the increase, local manufacturers did not pay any tax on their inventory, and no Freeport exemption could be put in place as the millage rate was rolled back to zero every year. While manufacturers will pay a full Freeport tax on this year’s inventory, they will see a reduced amount in next years’ taxes, as the exemption will be in place.
“I’m for [the exemption],” said Lowry. “Emerson needs every dime or penny of revenue we can get, but we also have to remain competitive. There’s not much choice on that, in my opinion. I’d like to see some revenue coming in, but we also have to remain competitive.”
Lowry believed the Freeport exemption, once set, would allow the city to attract new businesses that would create jobs in Emerson and compensate for any lost tax revenue. He also believed the approval of Sunday package sales and Sunday alcohol sales would be a boon to Emerson businesses in the short and long term.
“If we didn’t have that, first of all, with [LakePoint Sporting Community & Town Center] and you get hotels or restaurants, that’s a big part of it particularly on Sunday — well, not particularly on Sunday — but Sunday certainly adds to it, and if we didn’t allow it they’re just going to drive three miles up the road, or four miles, up the road or down the road, north or south, and they’re going to go someplace else and spend the money.
“So if they’re going to spend it, we’d just as soon have it for our citizenry as not.”
Pallone also thought the Freeport exemption was a way to bring growth to Emerson, and he saw it was the more important of the two issues on the city’s ballot.
“I’m very happy with [the exemption]. Because that could have really hurt the city, not having that exemption. That one was a much bigger, more important thing for the city. I wasn’t nearly as worried about getting the alcohol thing passed ... but the Freeport exemption I thought we really had to do,” he said.
Both Pallone and Lowry recognized the Sunday sales measures would be unpopular with some residents. However, they said the city council recognized the economic benefits and allowed residents to have their say on the issue.
“That was, really, I think, the thought process,” Pallone said about the economic advantages of Sunday sales. “I mean, the public had the right to say they didn’t want it, but that’s not something I’m strongly in favor of either. But it’s one of those things that you give the community the right to vote on it, and they passed it, so apparently it’s what they wanted.”
One hundred thirty-three votes were cast in favor of Sunday sales by the drink while 136 votes were cast in favor of Sunday package sales. Sixty three were cast against sales by the drink and 61 were cast against package sales.
The Freeport exemption was split into three questions, with each covering a different type of inventory, where it is stored, where it is shipped and how long it was stored within the city limits. The first question received 127 for and 67 against; the second question received 119 votes for and 69 against; and the third question received 99 votes for and 89 votes against.
All ballots for the Freeport exemption and Sunday sales measures were cast at Emerson city hall.
Lowry and Pallone believed the city council would move as quickly as possible to sign the Sunday sales into law and implement a Freeport exemption. While Pallone said he would recommend an 80 or 100 percent exemption, which would put Emerson on par with Bartow County’s planned move to a 100 percent exemption, he recognized the final decision was up to the council.
“I would recommend that we stay in line with what the surrounding areas are doing ... But I don’t know what the council’s going to want to do. But at this point that’s the kind of thing that I would recommend as well,” he said.