Tax breaks face scrutiny over local hire. Companies that have tax abatements with Jefferson County could soon face greater scrutiny of their efforts to buy and hire from within the local area. As part of the tax breaks they get for having their operations here, companies typically agree to make a good faith effort to hire local workers and spend money at local businesses. But there have been long standing concerns over how well some comply. The issue was raised recently by two members of the County Commissioners Court during a conversation regarding relatively small tweaks to the policy used to grant those tax breaks. The commissioners unanimously approved the slight language change to make the county’s abatement policy and model agreement match–a largely pro forma measure. However, the county declined to include in those changes a new definition of “local” that had been requested by Port Arthur Mayor Thurman Bill Bartle.  Tax breaks face scrutiny over local hire.

Bartle previously asked the county to allow its definition to match that which is held by the city where the company plans to locate. Currently, the policy considers workers and businesses to be “local” if they are within a nine county area that includes Liberty, Tyler and Chambers counties. “I’m not trying to be obstinate, but I’m just asking for consideration,” Bartle said on the meeting where the changes were approved. Attorney to the County Judge Fred Jackson said he wasn’t sure the county would see any interest in abatement agreements if it used Port Arthur’s policy. Commissioner Bo Alfred and Michael Shane Sinegal are pushing to improve enforcement of the local hiring and buying policies, which they believe could alleviate some issues.

Unrelated to the slight language changes that were approved, Alfred said on Monday morning he met with a community member who had concerns about how the abatement agreements were enforced. Alfred declined to give specifics but said it’s prompted him to ask more questions.