Yet another big business is getting a special tax deal from local governments at the expense of local taxpayers. Ben E. Keith, a food and beverage distributor, is getting a property tax reduction of up to 50 percent from both the City of Fort Worth and Tarrant County on new improvements they are making to their facilities.

Last Tuesday, Tarrant County Commissioners Court voted unanimously to approve joining the City of Fort Worth in granting Ben E. Keith a reduction in property taxes that the company would pay both local governments—called a tax abatement—on at least $29 million of improvements to their office and warehouse facilities at 7600 and 7650 Will Rogers Blvd. Fort Worth’s tax abatement only applies to the improvements at the latter location. Fort Worth and Tarrant County each set their abatements at a maximum of 50 percent for seven years.

It’s estimated Fort Worth will collect around $877,000 less in taxes than they would without the abatement, and Tarrant County will collect around $238,000 less.

Meanwhile, data from the Tarrant Appraisal District shows that the average Tarrant County property tax bill for single-family homes increased 31 percent from 2013 to 2018, and Fort Worth’s increased 36 percent. It is not yet known if either government will provide property tax relief for all when they pass their tax rates in late August or early September.

To receive at least 40 percent of Tarrant’s abatement, Ben E. Keith must spend at least $29 million in capital improvements, have no layoffs, hire 179 full-time employees by 2024, and hire a grand total of 283 by the end of 2026. Sales and administrative positions will earn an average yearly salary of $126,200.00, and warehouse and transportation positions will earn an average of $71,900.00. Ben E. Keith must also “spend specific amounts” towards Disadvantaged Business Enterprises in the county for their capital improvements. DBE’s are businesses “where socially and economically disadvantaged individuals own at least a 51% interest and also control management and daily business operations.

The remaining 10 percent can be “incrementally earned” by hiring above the minimum staffing needs, “for added community commitments in terms of Tarrant County resident employment and additional spending with DBE and Tarrant County companies for construction costs.”

Fort Worth requires at least $22 million in “total construction costs” and 185,000 square feet of “new office and warehouse space.” While they have the same hiring requirements as Tarrant County, they also require that a minimum of the new hires be Fort Worth residents, and some from the Panther Island region, with specific dates for new hires to be employed and on location. There are also additional requirements for how much the company must spend within Fort Worth.

Taxpayers seeking reductions in their own property tax bills should attend their local government budget workshops and contact their local elected officials.

Robert Montoya

Born in Houston, Robert Montoya is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard. He believes transparency is the obligation of government.