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Tarrant County commissioners disappointed with mineral rights deal

Usually a $1.5 million infusion of cash to the county’s coffers would be welcome news.

But in the bonanza for mineral rights that has become the Barnett Shale, a $1.5 million signing bonus brought few cheers.

Tarrant County commissioners expressed disappointment toward a proposed deal to lease the mineral rights on 102 acres of land on the Resource Connection campus in southeast Fort Worth.

"That's still way short of what I'm reading in the paper of what people are getting," said Commissioner J.D. Johnson, referring to recent eye-popping bonuses of $25,000 an acre negotiated by local neighborhood groups.

The offer from Chesapeake Energy constitutes a signing bonus of $14,277 per acre along with a 25 percent royalty.

County administrator G.K. Maenius told commissioners the county is required to request bids on each tract of land and is not allowed to try and negotiate a better deal. Chesapeake Energy was the only company to make a bid on the land.

Maenius explained that Chesapeake already operates wells on land adjacent to the Resource Connection campus, making the lease less attractive to other companies.

Commissioners approved the deal unanimously. Commissioner Gary Fickes, who is recovering from a liver transplant, was absent from the meeting.

The money will go into a special fund for the Resource Connection's capital purchases and major maintenance needs.

The Resource Connection, started in 1995 at the old Fort Worth State School site, consolidates local and state agencies and nonprofit organizations in one location.

Maenius said the county has averaged close to $11,000 per acre on its mineral rights leases. There are still more deals in the works for other tracts of land but the Resource Connection campus was the county's largest, he said.

He said the county might be able to attract better deals if state law allowed them the option of negotiating oil and gas leases.

"Giving us that option would be to our benefit," Maenius said.

ABATEMENT APPROVEDCommissioners also approved a tax abatement for Deloitte LLP for a proposed $300 million, 750,000-square-foot training center complex in Westlake. Should the company decide to build the facility in Westlake, Deloitte will receive a 55 percent abatement on property value added as a result of the training center if the company invests $145 million in construction costs, adds a minimum of $30 million in personal property and creates 100 full-time jobs.

If Deloitte meets certain other criteria such as adding more full-time jobs, the abatement could grow to as high as 75 percent, or $3.5 million over the life of the abatement.

Commissioners bristled at a presentation from county officials in March when they learned that Deloitte refused to guarantee that it would offer health insurance to 300 to 400 "support personnel" who would run the 800-room hotel that would be part of the training center.

The concern was that those uninsured workers might end up relying on JPS, the county’s public hospital, for their medical needs, creating a burden that all of the county’s taxpayers would have to share.

Commissioners chose to offer Deloitte an additional 5 percent abatement if it received certification that at least 50 percent of its contracted support personnel were provided healthcare benefits.

County Judge Glen Whitley said Deloitte representatives had signaled to him that they expect to meet all of the county’s benchmarks and receive the full abatement.

"They're not going to leave money on the table," Whitley said.

Because Westlake does not have a property tax, the city has offered to share 50 percent of the sales tax collected on construction materials bought in the town. In addition, Westlake would let Deloitte keep 50 percent of the hotel tax collected at the facility for 10 years or until the total reached $100,000, whichever came first.

Deloitte decided not to request an abatement from JPS.

The other locations Deloitte is considering for the center are believed to be near Chicago and Ann Arbor, Mich.

If Deloitte went with Westlake, construction would begin in October and end by June 2010, according to county documents.