After a rousing amount of comments, emails, and phone calls from East Valley residents, the Gilbert Public School Board unanimously voted to support a tax break for Apple, Inc, who will now continue with their plans to purchase and rehab the former First Solar plant at Signal Butte and Elliot roads in southeast Mesa.
Meeting with a standing-room-only crowd and following a contentious debate at the November 12 board meeting, board members Julie Smith and Daryl Colvin changed their stance, as they were previously vocally in opposition to the tax break. President Staci Burk was undecided at the November 12 meeting.
Officials earlier lauded Apple’s Nov. 4 announcement that it was buying the now-vacant First Solar Inc. building at Signal Butte and Elliot roads.
The move is expected to pour $1 billion into the economy and bring 700 permanent and 1,300 temporary construction jobs to the Valley.
Board member Jill Humpherys, who was in favor of the deal since the beginning, said since last Tuesday’s meeting she had received 450 e-mails from the community in support of the deal.
The public was not allowed to comment during the meeting, but clapped loudly during Humpherys’ and board member Lily Tram’s statements that they continued to support the deal with Apple.
“Additional revenue with the foreign-trade zone and with the major corporation that will come in means a decrease in property taxes for our businesses and residential areas,” Tram said. “This is really a win-win for everybody.”
Board member Julie Smith had originally stated she was against the proposal because she didn’t believe in tax breaks for large corporations.
During the meeting on Monday, she said she had enough time to do research and ask questions of officials and believed the deal would be beneficial to the community.
“This school board does ask questions,” Smith said to murmurs from the audience. “We do want all the information we need to make an informed decision.”
But she said she planned to campaign legislators and the governor to change portions of the tax law with which she felt the community didn’t agree.
Board member Daryl Colvin, who had said he was against the deal, said Monday night that after meeting with officials he now believed it would be beneficial to taxpayers.
“I hope someday our business climate has become so excellent that companies can locate here without any special considerations, but I’m willing to grant these,” he said.
Humpherys and Tram at the Nov. 12 meeting had questioned their fellow board member’s statements that they needed more information and more time, saying information about the deal was sent to board members 18 days before the meeting.
Humpherys charged that Smith’s and Colvin’s qualms were motivated by “political ideology.”
“I’m not looking to see whether I agree with tax breaks or not,” Humpherys told The Republic. “My focus is on education, not on politics.”
Burk apologized for the delay in the vote and said she had “appreciated hearing from the governor.”