Fort Worth

GE seeks changes in Fort Worth incentive package

GE Manufacturing operates a locomotive plant in far north Fort Worth.
GE Manufacturing operates a locomotive plant in far north Fort Worth. Star-Telegram archives

GE Manufacturing Solutions, the General Electric affiliate that makes locomotives and mining equipment in far north Fort Worth, has asked the City Council to amend for a second time an economic development incentive in place since 2011.

This time, the company is asking that it receive bonus grant payments when it exceeds certain employment numbers, but that those bonuses not be tied to the number of employees living in Fort Worth and the central city.

The reason? GE says some employees are moving from within Loop 820 to be nearer to the plant, located west of Texas Motor Speedway, and avoid traffic jams along Interstate 35W.

The company is required to have 30 percent of those employees living in Fort Worth and 10 percent in the central city, or within Loop 820.

“They’re being penalized because of [traffic] conditions,” said Jay Chapa, assistant city manager, referring to I-35W congestion. The ongoing widening and expansion of I-35W from downtown to past the Alliance Corridor is notoriously congested and commute times can be long.

The company also wants to extend the incentive by five years, to 2028. It’s now slated to expire in 2023.

The council took the matter under advisement Tuesday. It plans to vote on the proposed changes at its regular meeting next week, Dec. 15.

In 2011, the council approved two incentives for GE, one for the construction of each plant, both located on Three Wide Drive. Both incentives provided for an abatement up to 85 percent of some of GE’s real and business personal property taxes.

But by February 2013, the company had not yet executed the agreements and asked for revisions on the employment numbers “due to the continued economic downturn and revised projections on the future sales of locomotives,” a city report said.

The council agreed to restructure the incentives into one package. Currently, the company receives a 55 percent abatement on some of its real and business personal property taxes when it has at least 280 employees. The requirement that 30 percent be Fort Worth residents and 10 percent be living in the central city will remain the same when the abatement is calculated.

That abatement goes up to 70 percent when the company has 600 employees or more, and to 85 percent when the figure exceeds 875 employees. The company, though, can receive bonuses of 5 percent and 10 percent, respectively, on the higher employee numbers. The company doesn’t want the potential bonuses to be tied to the Fort Worth and central city resident requirements.

According to a May 2014 city audit of GE’s current incentive program, the company had 455 employees in 2013. Of those, 143 were Fort Worth residents, seven more than needed, but only 33 lived within Loop 820, when GE was required to have 45. As a result, the grant percentage was reduced slightly.

In 2013, GE received 46.8 percent of its abatement, for $289,971. The city collected $325,679.

At the end of 2014, GE had 643 working at the plants, meaning a 5 percent bonus grant was available. But instead, GE received 47.1 percent of the eligible 55 percent abatement, or $393,800, according to the city report. The city collected $442,294.

Victory Forest Recreation Center

The council voted 8-0, with Councilman Zim Zimmerman absent, to approve a $5.1 million contract to hire C. Perry Builders, a general contractor in Aubrey, to build the Victory Forest Recreation Center in south Fort Worth. Total cost of the project is about $6.8 million.

The center, at Hemphill and Biddison streets, is funded with certificates of obligation issued in 2000 and 2013, the 2004 and 2014 bond programs, and park dedication fees and interest. The new facility will provide programs including after-school activities, summer day camp, classes for youth and adults, and activities for seniors. The center will have an outdoor playground, gymnasium, fitness room, multipurpose room, dance room, teaching kitchen, youth play room and restrooms with showers.