De Soto fortunate to have Huhtamaki in community
De Soto residents received valuation notices from the Johnson County Appraiser's Office earlier this month. Valuations of homes in the city increased an average of 11.1 percent.
Homeowners are always told they should be happy about valuation increases because it shows what is likely their most valuable investment was a good one. But given the effect an increased valuation will have on tax bills, it is hard to revel in that happy thought.
Although it wasn't part of homeowners' notices, the appraiser's annual valuation report had good news for De Soto residents. It reported the city's commercial assessed valuation increased nearly two-fold to $9.7 million.
The last year saw the city's most significant commercial project of recent years, but it doesn't take a property assessor to appreciate the source of that staggering increase in commercial valuation lies elsewhere. And indeed, the appraiser's office attributes the hike to the end of the tax abatement given what was then Sealright 10 years ago.
For some time, that abatement appeared a poster child of a failed incentive program. Sealright didn't prosper in De Soto, failing to bring the agreed upon number of new jobs to the city.
That all changed five years ago when Huhtamaki Americas not only bought the plant but moved its North American headquarters to the city. The new owners have provided the business savvy needed to stabilize and then expand what had been a struggling operation. The plant's payroll began growing soon after the change, and last year Huhtamaki announced a major product line expansion that will add as many as 15 jobs to the 350 now at the plant and as much as $2 million to its value. The announcement refutes the view that corporations ride out the benefits of abatements only to move on to the next accommodating city.
The investment taxpayers made 10 years ago in the plant has already benefited De Soto's businesses and the city's coffers through indirect taxes paid by employees. Should there be no major change in the appraiser's numbers through the appeal process, the investment will now give the Council the rare opportunity to couple property tax relief with more services and capital improvements. That is exactly the kind of tax-base expansion city leaders hoped for 10 years ago.
The community got one final reward. Huhtamaki has proven a fine corporate citizen, supporting numerous community endeavors, including the De Soto Days Festival and Relay for Life. It has been active in the De Soto Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Council, even though as an industrial entity it receives no direct benefit from the city's economic growth.
The city is lucky Huhtamaki came to the rescue five years ago, but the future appears rosy because of mutual respect between the community and the company and not simple good fortune.