Here's a timeline of our stories:
- First, we reported SC Johnson's Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Administration Building and Research Tower were exempt from property taxes. That turns out to be about $40,000 per year.
- Then, we learned that Becker and SC Johnson made a deal. SCJ gets the tax-exempt status and Becker gets $500,000 over five years for Uptown. (We filed a records request with the city to gain documents surrounding this deal, but are still waiting to hear back from the city attorney's office.)
- SC Johnson responded to our story noting it was still expected to contribute $166,942 in property taxes from the new Project Honor to the city's Uptown tax incremental district. The money will be used to rebuild streets and buildings.
- We then reviewed SCJ's Project Honor building permit and found the project was expected to cost $39 million to build. The company then estimated it expected to save between $150,000 and $200,000 in property taxes for Fortaleza Hall, the tax-exempt portion of Project Honor that will honor the late Sam Johnson.
Our concern with these stories was Becker's backroom dealings. Decisions like this should go before the Common Council and get a public airing before they're finalized. No doubt SCJ and Becker could have made a strong case for approving the tax-exempt properties and moving forward with Uptown. But the fact that they never made that case suggests they knew they some would raise objections - and possibly nix the deal.
I do believe SCJ is getting unfairly tarnished in the comments. It's a good, smart company that makes good, shrewd business decisions. They found a state law that applied to their property and they used it to save money. It's those decisions that will, hopefully, keep local residents employed for years to come.
Becker should be taking heat here, but the former mayor's reputation is so in tatters that a questionable tax deal seems hardly worth mentioning. Let's hope Mayor Dickert and our new cast of city leaders know enough to conduct these deals in the open, if only to minimize the suspicion.