Casey’s is a go
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Casey’s is a go
By Mike Van Sickle
A trio of City Council measures approved on Monday have cleared the way for the construction of a Casey’s General Store in West Union.
After unanimously passing the rezoning of the property located along Highway 18 in West Union from Mixed Residential to Highway Commercial, the council similarly approved an amendment to the Urban Renewal Plan for the Downtown Urban Renewal Area.
By a 3-2 vote, the council then approved a development agreement and tax-increment financing (TIF) between the City and Casey’s Marketing Company. Councilmen Cam Granger, Isaiah Stansbery and Adam Keller voted to approve the agreement, while Councilmembers Cathy Bemiss and Kennon Gumm voted against the proposal.
The approved TIF and development agreement is in connection with the construction of the facility and the relocation and reconstruction of a sanitary sewer line. The tax incentives are in the form of annual appropriation of incremental property tax payments in a total amount not exceeding $160,000.
The payments will not be a general obligation of the City, but will be paid solely from incremental tax revenues generated within the Downtown Urban Renewal Area.
Former West Union city attorney Jeff Clements reminded the council that the state’s TIF statute was originally meant for infrastructure needs.
In addition, West Union TIF Committee member Duane Willhite reminded the council that the recommendation to approve the TIF proposal was unanimously approved by the TIF Committee.
“I am wary of the abuse or overuse of TIF myself, because as a school administrator I do have concerns, but I do not see that (abuse) here,” admitted the North Fayette and Valley schools shared superintendent.
TIF Committee member Tobin Britt also reported that the Casey’s TIF application met the required criteria, including that it was a new business and would create new jobs.
While addressing the concerns of residents in regard to the business being corporate-owned, Britt commented, “I feel it (Casey’s) would enhance the value of our town. I feel it is a corporation that will be good citizens.”
After repeated comments that the development of Casey’s would provide the City with additional local option sales tax monies, Casey McDermott, owner of the All-Stop convenience store in West Union, asked if any officials know how much LOST funding would be gained with the additional development.
Bemiss responded that in discussion with other officials, it was her estimate that it would result in $1,500 annually.
McDermott stated it was his opinion that with the development of Casey’s and the related redistribution of customers/sales from Subway, other pizza and convenience stores in the community, it would not actually result in new customers coming to town.
He argued how could the development be bringing new people to town if Casey’s would be paying its employees a $7.25 per hour wage.
“How can you call it economic growth if employees won’t be making a livable wage?” he asked, while adding. “Besides the use of property tax, where will that economic growth be?”
The neighboring convenience store owner later suggested that he would be forced to cut the wages of his employees to compete with the Casey’s General Store.
“For me, I am encouraged by the growth in West Union,” Palmer Lutheran Health Center CEO Steve Stark later commented, while listing the newly opened U.S. Cellualr store, West Union Dental Associates, and downtown streetscape.
“Although as a member of the Fayette County Economic Development board, I wouldn’t see Casey’s as a poster child for economic development. But its construction could still spark interest from an outside view looking in that others would see that this is a city that likes to see things get done,” added the Palmer Lutheran Health Center CEO. “We have a piece of land (Casey’s site) currently sitting there that serves no purpose.”
While answering earlier questions, Casey’s attorney Doug Beach informed those in attendance that the proposed West Union convenience store would not be a truck stop-style fuel stop. He estimated six fuel pumps onsite and admitted that a decision had yet to be made whether the store would be open 24 hours.
“Casey’s has been looking at West Union for a long time,” he later added. “There was an interest, but the property had major infrastructure problems that didn’t meet (Casey’s) economic model.”
Beach estimated that after the construction of the new Casey’s facility, the City of West Union would gain an additional $20,000 in property tax revenue.
While acknowledging that high school-aged Casey’s employees typically start out at minimum wage, other employees often start out at $8 to $8.50 hourly. Meanwhile, managers and assistant managers are usually paid an annual salary of $35,000 to $40,000 and are eligible for bonuses.
At the same time, full-time employees receive a health/dental insurance and IRA benefit package. He noted that due to the new healthcare program, part-time employees (30 or more hours) would also soon receive a health insurance package.
Gumm asked why Casey’s would ask the City of West Union to help with the sewer infrastructure when he was informed that in another community, the corporation paid for the purchase of properties that included tearing down two homes.
“Every town is unique and different. The price of land, size of facility, traffic flow…are all taken into consideration,” responded Beach, who then asked to which community Gumm was referring.
Gumm responded Fredericksburg, and Beach said he was not aware of that situation and must not have participated in the purchase of that property.
Reiterating that every situation is unique, Beach asked, “Do you know how much (Casey’s) is paying for this property?”
“No,” answered Gumm.
“Exactly,” said the attorney.
Keller informed the Casey’s representative that the talk among community members was that Casey’s was figuring 4 percent interest into the TIF proposal.
While denying the rumor, Beach added, “We (Casey’s) took your numbers. We’re taking the risk. If you want to do it (infrastructure), we’ll let you do it.”
Bemiss asked what would happen if the City chose not to approve the agreement and would not put in the new infrastructure.
Beach responded that Casey’s would choose not to come to West Union.
“I believe what is making this decision tough is that there is a difference of opinion on the economic development impact this project will have,” said Gumm. “I’m not saying I don’t want Casey’s in town.”
He noted that according to the community’s Comprehensive Plan, the development of a Casey’s falls under what is termed “surplus” in regard to TIF proposals.
Gumm was reminded by TIF Committee member Michael Lauer and Planning and Zoning Commission member Steve Roach that the Comprehensive Plan was yet to be approved by the City.
“The Comprehensive Plan is a vision of what makes our town good. It is what we hope for. It is not a hard and fast resolution,” Roach later added.
Both Mayor Kent Halverson and Keller noted that after attending the recent Main Street Iowa Awards in Des Moines (see The Union A-4) they came to quickly realize the widespread recognition the City of West Union has received from its Green Pilot Streetscape Project.
“As a city, we chose to spend ($10 million) for our downtown. My view is that was our Comprehensive Plan,” said Halverson.
“Is Casey’s the best fit? I don’t know, but they want to come to town. If we turn this down, who else is coming?” asked Keller. “People are now looking at West Union not only locally and at the state level, it’s nationally known.”
“When we were there (Des Moines), I came to realize the tremendous number of people who knew what was going on in West Union,” Halverson agreed.
“I don’t like to look backward; I like to look forwards,” Granger later added. “Everyone knows the perception that West Union has in the surrounding area – we chase businesses away.”
Current owner of the proposed building site, Earl Moss of M-Five Property informed the council that he was not going to be able to get an industrial-sized business to build on the property.
“We are talking to someone (Casey’s) who wants to come here,” said Moss. “I feel we (West Union) fit their needs and they fit the community’s.”
(Editor’s note: Discussion on additional agenda items from the Monday, May 5, meeting will be published in next week’s Union.)