Tompkins County residents challenge Cargill mine subsidy


ITHACA, NY - A handful of Tompkins residents spoke at Tuesday's legislature meeting against a request from Cargill corporation asking the county to give the company a $640,000 sales tax abatement to help fund a new $32 million mine shaft.

Some saw the company's application for the tax break as a veiled threat -- suggesting that the mine would cease operation altogether, if the county didn't grant the abatement. Loss of the mine would kill almost 200 jobs at the Cargill salt mine in Lansing.

A half of a dozen people spoke about the issue. The primary argument was that Cargill, a multinational corporation with several billion in sales, ought to be able to afford the expense without needing a $640,000 writeoff from a county with a much smaller budget. It was also argued that since the mine shaft will increase productivity for the company by allowing miners to work more hours (rather than spending time in transit), the county would essentially be paying for the company to make more profit.

Other concerns included possible environmental impacts of digging the new shaft as well as safety issues, particularly in light of the incident earlier this year where several miners were trapped underground for several hours due to an equipment malfunctin.

The abatement is under the purview of the Tompkins Industrial Development Agency (IDA). Four legislators serve on the IDA, and at least two of them indicated that they were learning toward approving the abatement.

Legislator Rich John, who serves on the IDA, noted that the Cargill mine has a solid safety record, and prior to the incident this year had not had any major incidents for six years.

Some critics of the abatement argued that Cargill's "threat" to abandon the mine was hollow, since the company would not abandon an operation and natural resource reserves it already had a significant investment in. Looking at it from a purely captilistic perspective, John disagreed.

"From a corporate level, they have other sources of salt and if they can get that salt to their customers for a nickel cheaper, they'll write off that investment," he said. "They would consider doing that. I don't think it's a slam dunk that they'll do this no matter what."

John added that he felt since there was uncertainty, it was important to err on the side of caution to preserve the jobs at the Cargill mine in Lansing. Furthermore, the tax abatement would be a one-time sales tax abatement, and not an ongoing property tax break -- in fact, the project should add to the mine's assessment, he said.

Legislator Will Burbank, also on the IDA, also seemed to be leaning toward approving the abatement, saying that he'd been weighing the benefits of the project and that the manager of the project had made a "fairly convincing" presentation during the last IDA meeting.

Residents will have another opportunity to speak about the abatement for the mine shaft project at a public hearing on Friday. It will take place at 2 p.m. at the Lansing Town Hall at 29 Auburn Road in Lansing.

The issue will return to the IDA during a meeting on Thursday, Oct. 13 at 4 p.m.