The Hermiston City Council passed a resolution Monday night that one councilor said would do nothing less than change the face of Hermiston and the region in the coming years.
The council voted unanimously to provide Amazon Data Services with a 15-year property tax exemption in exchange for Amazon agreeing to invest $200 million to develop 250,000 square feet of data center facilities within the Greater Hermiston Enterprise Zone. The deal also calls for Amazon to create jobs that pay employees 130 percent of the Umatilla County average wage.
On top of that, Amazon will pay the Greater Hermiston Enterprise Zone at least $40 million in various fees over the next 15 years. The zone is administered by the city and co-sponsored by Umatilla County. The Umatilla County Commissioners are expected to approve the deal on Wednesday.
Hermiston Assistant City Manager called Monday’s vote “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” for the city and the region.
Hermiston City Councilor John Kirwan put the deal in historical terms.
“In the course of the history of a city, very rarely do opportunities like this come along,” he said. “This will likely change the face of Hermiston and the region.” Kirwan said an investment such as what Amazon plans in Hermiston can open the door to more economic investment in the area.
The decision, however, was not unanimously applauded by members of the public who spoke Monday night.
Hermiston resident Ric Sherman is a member of the Umatilla Fire District #1 board of directors. While he supports the idea of bringing good-paying jobs to the area, he worries about the strain more people, more houses and more structures will place on the city’s firefighters without the benefits of additional property tax revenue to bolster staff and resources.
“We have to have the resources to provide the services,” he said. “These services save lives. This can adversely affect our response time and ability to service the district.”
Morgan said among the fees paid by Amazon to Hermiston will be a public safety fee. That money will go to the fire district, he said. Sherman, however, said that money represents just 2 percent of the district’s overall budget.
Hermiston resident Jackie Linton said she was “ambivalent” about the deal. She said Amazon should pay its share of property taxes just like the citizens of Hermiston who live here.
Kirwan said Hermiston is giving “nothing” away to Amazon. He said the property tax revenue would never come to Hermiston in the first place.
“If we don’t do this, Amazon will find another city that will happily give them the tax breaks,” he said. That route, he said, would leave Hermiston without the property tax revenue and without the jobs.
Kirwan said this is the first major industry investment in Hermiston that is neither farm nor transportation related.
“This is an opportunity to bring jobs that will be the wave of the future,” he said.
Councilor Roy Barron said he empathized with those who oppose giving Amazon a tax break, but said it was important to diversify the area’s economy.
“At some point we have to diversify our workforce,” he said. “This (deal) will do well for us now and in the future.”