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E-Referendum discussed at Eggs and Issues
ron tolley
Liberty County Development Authority CEO Ron Tolley speaks at the Chamber of Commerce’s Eggs and Issues Breakfast on Sept. 30 about the upcoming vote on Expansion of Level 1 Freeport Tax Exemption for e-commerce fulfillment centers. Photo provided.

Jobs, and the possibility of attracting more of them to Liberty County, is the aim of a proposed tax exemption for industry, Liberty County Development Authority CEO Ron Tolley told members of the Liberty County Chamber of Commerce Sept. 30.

“Without jobs people don’t shop for new things in your stores, use your services, or buy new homes,” Tolley said at the Chamber’s Eggs and Issues Breakfast at the Performing Arts Center. “The jobs I’m here to discuss are tied to a referendum that will be on the ballot in the voting that will be occurring in coming weeks, concluding with the Nov. 3 general election.”

 Formally called Expansion of Level 1 Freeport Tax Exemption, and the last item on the ballot, Liberty County voters are deciding in the general election whether the exemption will be offered to companies that put fulfillment centers in the county. 

It would, in effect, incentivize companies to locate in Liberty County by exempting their inventory from property taxes, just as other competing counties are already doing and attracting new jobs as a result.

Tolley said fulfillment centers are similar to traditional distribution centers, which store and ship goods to retail stores; but that instead of shipping to stores, they ship directly to consumers’ homes.

He said the county has been successful in attracting traditional distribution centers, citing the seven that have located here and the 1,300-plus people they employ. Not so with fulfillment centers.

 “I’ve had site selection consultants tell me they won’t even consider counties that don’t offer the e-commerce freeport exemption when they are looking for sites for fulfillment centers,” he said.

Tolley said e-commerce is among the fastest growing segments of the national economy. He said the exemption will help the county compete with other counties scrambling to grow jobs, especially since four other counties in the region have already passed it. 

He gave examples of Chatham County, where Amazon and Wayfair have established fulfillment centers, and Bryan County, where Spreetail established a center last year, after voters there approved the measure in 2018.

 He emphasized the exemption is not a new tax.

“The e-commerce inventory exemption is not a new tax,” Tolley said. “It simply assures fulfillment centers in counties where voters have approved it that their inventory will not be taxed, thus making those locations more attractive for the companies and creating new jobs in those counties.” 

“Liberty County needs to be able to offer this simple exemption if we intend to remain competitive, attract these fast growing operations, and create more jobs for our people,” he said.

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