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Scappoose approves benefits for jet ambulance company, which claims it will grow to 40 employees

A jet ambulance company with plans to build a $4.6 million facility in Scappoose will get five years of tax breaks for doing so.

COURTESY OF PREMIER JETS - Premier Jets personnel load supplies and equipment into planes. The company is set to build a new hangar in Scappoose.Premier Jets, a private company that transports sensitive medical equipment, organs and patients when needed, purchased property near Scappoose Industrial Airpark from the Port of St. Helens last year.

The company intends to move its operations from Hillsboro to Scappoose, where it will build a new hangar and office space near the airport in Scappoose. It has operated in Hillsboro since 1984, according to filings with the Secretary of State's Office.

Premier Jets is one of many companies that will take advantage of enterprise zone benefits, which offer property tax forgiveness in exchange for developing in Columbia County. In this case, that's an estimated $77,000 a year the company won't have to pay in property taxes.

The company automatically qualified for three years of enterprise zone benefits in 2017, and pending approval from Vernonia City Council, will get another two years of tax breaks, for a total of five tax-free years. In exchange for the additional two years of tax abatement, Premier Jets has agreed to pay its employees an average salary 150 percent of the county's average annual income of $36,900, and pay 10 percent of its abatement toward a betterment fund, which will be split between the Columbia County Economic Team and the city of Scappoose.

The company expects to start out at its new site with about 17 employees, but plans to ramp up to 40 employees eventually, Ron Levesque, a project management director with Premier Jets, explained.

"We're expanding the business," Levesque said Thursday, Jan. 4. "We're moving into a 40,000 square foot hangar."

"This is a good business," Chuck Daughtry, executive director of CCET, told the Scappoose City Council Tuesday. "This is certainly a company we'd like to have in Columbia County."Daughtry

Councilors gave their blessing for the extended enterprise zone benefits, but not before weighing the pros and cons for the city.

Scappoose Mayor Scott Burge voiced frustration over not being involved in initial talks with the company about locating to Scappoose and the tax benefits available for doing so.

"It's our city, we should be the ones at that table," Burge said.

Councilor Joel Haugen asked pointed questions about Premier Jets' 2014 bankruptcy filing and what the city would be losing in property tax revenue, noting a company could come in, not pay taxes for five

consecutive years, and then fold.

"It seems like Premier Jets is already committed to this process," Haugen said of the company's plans to develop, "So what is the argument for extending this?"

Daughtry said the tax break program is a vital tool in recruiting businesses to locate in Columbia County.

"Washington doesn't have any state income tax, and we're competing with them," he said by phone Wednesday.

The day prior, during the enterprise zone benefit discussion, Daughtry warned that not offering the additional tax abatement benefits "sends a chilling message to all the entities that are looking to locate in Columbia County," and

said regardless of how long Premier Jets stays in the

Scappoose location, the city will benefit from having a newly constructed industrial building to attract business ten-

ants.

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