Middletown council considers changing requirements of incentive agreements

There were several tense moments during a recent Middletown City Council meeting as members and staff debated changing the Community Reinvestment Area agreements with four businesses.

If the second readings of the four ordinances are approved at the next council meeting, the agreements would reduce requirements for the number of full-time employees from 30 to 15 and annual payroll from $1.5 million to $450,000.

The companies are O’Reilly Auto, 1835 Central Ave., Torchlight Pass, 1131 Central Ave., BMW Motorcycles of Greater Cincinnati, 140 N. Verity Parkway, and MLH Developers, 1044 Central Ave.

All four were given 12-year, 100-percent tax abatements at different times as part of their CRA agreements, according to the city.

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Economic Development Director Chris Xeil Lyons said the city is reviewing all of its incentive agreements with a goal of being “fair and equitable” with more importance on investment over job creation and payroll.

Council member Ami Vitori said she couldn’t comment on the ordinances because her family owns two of the businesses, Torchlight Pass and MLH Developers.

Her husband Kevin Kimener said Torchlight Pass has six renters and serves as a landlord so it doesn’t have any payroll. He said the CRA form from the city didn’t accurately reflect the structure of the landlord business.

Council member Monica Nenni asked if the number of full-time employees and payroll aren’t relevant why is the city lowering the number and not eliminating them.

Lyons said the city sent emails to the companies and they responded with recommendations for the number of full-time employees and payroll.

“The last thing we want to do is pull an incentive,” she said.

After the review, she said, the city feels “pretty comfortable” regarding the CRAs.

Mayor Nicole Condrey said if the city rewrote the requirements of the agreements that would send a message that companies don’t “have to worry about upholding your end” of the CRA.

Lyons said the city is “making strides” correcting some of the “bad deals” it made in the past. She said the city wants to be good stewards of taxpayers’ money.

“We are not giving away anyone’s money,” she said.

While the number of required employees has been cut in half and payroll reduced by two-thirds, Lyons stressed all the companies are open and investing in the community.

Council member Tal Moon said three of the four businesses renovated their buildings and he was “thankful for the program.”

Condrey said council and city staff need to earn public trust. She said numerous Middletown residents read and questioned the ordinances, then asked her: “How is it possible? How is it possible?”

“And I don’t have a good answer,” the mayor said.

After hearing that, Lyons told Condrey that “you can’t always think negatively; you can’t always think guilty until proven innocent.”


PROPOSED CHANGES TO COMMUNITY REINVESTMENT AREA AGREEMENT

O’Reilly Auto: From 7 full-time to 4 full-time employees and payroll from $273,000 to $150,000.

Torchlight Pass: From 9 full-time and 32 part-time to 1 full-time employee and payroll from $815,000 to $0.

BMW Motorcycles of Greater Cincinnati: 12 full-time to 9 full-time employees and payroll from $375,000 to $300,000.

MLH Developers: 2 full-time to 1 full-time employee and payroll from $65,000 to $0.

SOURCE: City of Middletown

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