Two companies are applying for tax abatements from the county and city.

Montana Sun LLC is seeking abatements for its $100 million, 80 megawatt solar generated power facility that will begin construction in October on Alkali Creek Road. The project is that of Greenbacker Renewable Energy Company, which will sell power to NorthWestern Energy.

Coca-Cola Bottling Co. High Country is also seeking tax relief for a $50 million investment in a bottling plant on Harnish Road.

There are two programs under which the county and city have historically encouraged economic growth and development by reducing property taxes for a period of time on an investment a company makes to expand or establish itself. Dianne Lehm, Director of Community Development for Big Sky Economic Development, explained that the county commissioners will decide under which of two available options to make the abatement decision.

The 10-year program, called the New & Expanding Industry Tax Incentive Program, allows the taxable value of the real property to be reduced by 50 percent in the first 5 years. In years 6-10, the tax obligation incrementally increases by 10 percent a year and the savings decreases until the full 100% liability is required and the abatement expires in year 10. The state legislature recently allowed local government the discretion to reduce taxes by 50 percent or by 75 percent with an incremental 15 percent increase over the last five years.

Another available option of the program is a five abatement which allows tax reductions on remodeling, reconstruction, and/or expansion of existing real property when a project makes improvements exceeding $500,000 to the property.  Property taxes on the value of improvements may be reduced by 100 percent for the first five years, after which property returns to its full taxable value.

Coca-Cola Bottling Co. High Country hopes to expand its operations in Billings in a facility to be built on 10.5 acres south of I-90 near the Zoo Drive Exit, the Harnish Trade Center. They have requested that the City of Billings annex the area and to help pay for 4,300 feet of extended utilities to the site. Big Sky Economic Development has offered a grant of up to $250,000 from its Opportunity Fund to help pay for the extension of lines, which would also assist other future development.

The City Council will take up the issue, in a few weeks, of spending another $250,000 to help support the project, while most of the $1.5 million cost for the installation of water and sewer will fall to the company.

The project proposal is for a 110,000-square-foot distribution center with a 30,000 square-foot manufacturing facility. Joe Easton, director of property development for Coca-Cola Bottling Co. High Country, explained that the expansion would mean that Billings would become a bottling plant from which their products will be distributed to the region they serve which besides Montana includes Minnesota, Colorado, North and South Dakota, Wyoming and Utah. Currently their 450 products are bottled elsewhere and distributed to Billings.

Coca-Cola High Country is a Rapid City -based company, owned by the third generation of the Messenger Family. The company acquired the Billings center in 2014, which has had a warehouse on 1st Avenue South in Billings since 1959.

Right now, the Billings center employees 60 full-time workers, but with the expansion, the number of employees is expected to increase by 50, including 40 manufacturing jobs, paying $24/hour, and other management jobs paying $100,000-plus benefits.

Montana Sun expects to start construction in October with the aim of being completed in about a year. The company believes the construction will create about 200 temporary jobs.

The project is one of many throughout the country owned by Greenbacker Renewable Energy Company, a company launched in by Robert Hokin, in 2011. Greenbacker Renewable Energy Company is a publicly reporting, non-traded limited liability company that acquires and manages income-generating renewable energy and other energy-related businesses. The company has over a billion dollars invested in solar facilities in a number of states.


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