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SL County Council doesn’t ‘like’ Facebook data center tax breaks

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Posted at 4:19 PM, Aug 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-17 00:08:34-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- In a unanimous vote, the Salt Lake County Council said it would not support $240 million in tax incentives to lure Facebook to build a data center in West Jordan.

The council deliberated its position on Tuesday after hearing public comment and a presentation that referred to data centers as a "suckhole" for the amount of water and power they consume.

"This proposal to me is a gross abuse of corporate welfare for a very rich company," Salt Lake County Councilman Richard Snelgrove said. "It amounts to a fleecing of the taxpayers."

Councilwoman Aimee Winder Newton and councilman Michael Jensen said they might change their votes later, if the terms of the deal were renegotiated. West Jordan is offering as much as $240 million in combined property tax incentives and energy tax rebates to lure Facebook to build a data center in a field there.

West Jordan Mayor Kim Rolfe said he had managed to get the project developer to reduce the footprint to 232 acres instead of 1,700. He also insisted it would not use millions of gallons of water a day like opponents claim.

"We can meet the maximum demand the company is asking for," Rolfe said.

Rolfe argued that the economic development to West Jordan would be big, providing more property tax revenue from that land than any other development after the initial 20-year investment. It was that argument that led the Jordan School Board to vote 5-1 on Tuesday to support the tax incentives.

"Currently, we get $100 a year, a little less than that, actually, on that land," board member Kayleen Whitelock said. "With this deal, we'll get $360,000  a year for the next 20 years."

A presenter to the Salt Lake County Council blasted the Facebook proposal, saying it would only provide 70-100 jobs and claiming that in 10 years the building would be obsolete (a defunct Swiss data center now serves as a warehouse for toilet paper, he said). Council members questioned why Facebook, a social media giant with billions in profits, needed such major tax incentives -- and if it would force them to make similar concessions to other companies.

The Salt Lake County Council's vote against tax incentives for Facebook is one in a series leading up to a final decision on Monday. A consortium tax entity made up of West Jordan, the Jordan School Board, the Utah State School Board and Salt Lake County will have to decide. So far, West Jordan and the Jordan School Board have voted "aye."

Six votes are needed to pass it, and each entity has two votes. Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, who opposes what has been termed "Project Discus," said he will be urging the state school board to vote no.

"I'll be reaching out to them to really look at this," he said. "This is a bad deal for the people of West Jordan, it's a bad deal for kids in the Jordan School District and it sets a terrible precedent for our state."

McAdams is holding a public meeting on the Facebook data center at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the West Jordan Library and Veridian Events Center.