Morgan County indicators off on Rivian tax deal; lawsuits threatened by Rivian opposition | Information

Morgan County tax assessors officially signed off on the tax exemption deal for Rivian during the board’s regular meeting on Wednesday, May 25. Afterward, an attorney for the anti-Rivian movement pledged forthcoming legal challenges to halt the Rivian project altogether.  



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Tax Assessors Chris Sides, Lee Nunn, Mary Anton and Kevin Berry (not pictured) vote in favor of the tax exemption deal for Rivian on Wednesday, May 25.  



In a four-to-one vote, the Morgan County Board of Tax Assessors quickly approved the request from the Joint Development Authority (JDA) which exempts Rivian from paying property taxes for 25 years and instead requires PILOTs (payments in lieu of taxes) to the JDA for a minimum amount of $300 million over the same time period.

Morgan County owns a 14.25 percent share of Rivian’s future PILOTs, which amounts to $200,000 per year for the first six years and rises from there. Morgan is expected to receive at least $42.75 million over the total PILOT period of 25 years.

Rivian is slated to break ground later this summer, with the JDA announcing all the requirements have been fulfilled to move forward with the 16 million-square-foot electric vehicle megafactory across a 2,000-acre site between Rutledge and Social Circle. And now, the final approval for Rivian’s tax exemption deal has been approved in Morgan County.

The meeting room was filled on Wednesday with more than 40 anti-Rivian locals and state media outlets, but no one from the opposition was permitted to speak. JDA Attorney Andrea Gray delivered brief remarks asking the board to approve the tax exemption deal. Chairperson Mary Ellen Anton warned the crowd not to boo, hiss, scream, yell, or jump up and down during the meeting and denied the Anti-Rivian group’s attorney John Christy from issuing a public comment.



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A disappointed anti-Rivian crowd showed frustration after a tax exemption deal was approved for Rivian by the Morgan Board of Tax Assessors on Wednesday, May 25. 



“I see no reason for it,” said Anton before the vote. “You are not telling us anything we don’t already know. This is really a matter of the PILOT addendum only. This is not about Rivian coming or going.”

However, one tax assessor, John Artz, attempted to derail the vote by requesting to amend the motion for approval. Artz wanted the board to hold off on voting and instead, seek out a “second opinion” from legal experts on the validity and consequences of the Rivian tax exemption deal for Morgan County.

But Anton would not have it.



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Mary Ellen Anton, chairperson of the Morgan County Board of Tax Assessors, shuts down Tax Assessor John Artz’s motion to seek a “second opinion” from legal experts before voting on tax exemption deal for Rivian. 



“That motion is flat out denied,” she said sharply without allowing the board to vote on Artz’s motion. “The Board of Assessors has had more than enough time to review this.”

The board then voted to approve Rivian’s tax exemption deal with Artz as the lone opposing vote.



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Morgan County Tax Assessor John Artz casts the lone vote against the tax exemption deal for Rivian on Wednesday, May 25. The request was approved four-to-one. 



“We are pleased with the decision by the Morgan County Board of Tax Assessors to approve the PILOT Agreement. This generational project is on track and moving forward with widespread support from the community, region and state,” said a joint statement from the JDA. “We will continue partnering with Rivian and the State of Georgia to make this project a reality and look forward to the groundbreaking later this summer.”

Following the vote, a lawyer for the opposition, John Christy, an attorney with the Atlanta-based law firm Schreeder Wheeler & Flint LLP, held a press conference, decrying the vote and the board’s refusal to allow public comment in an open meeting, and vowing to bring a variety of legal challenges to halt the controversial electric vehicle plant from coming to fruition.



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John Christy, a lawyer representing the local Rivian opposition, speaks outside of the Morgan County Administration building on Wednesday, May 25, vowing to launch legal challenges to stop the Rivian development from coming to Morgan County. 



“The taxpayers of Morgan County are being screwed,” said Christy to a crowd of 50 gathered around him. “But it’s a fantastic deal for Rivian.”

Christy argued that Morgan County’s share of PILOTs in the first six years would only amount to $200,000 per year, which would not offset new costs that would arise due to Rivian’s massive industrial development. Christy cited roadway maintenance, school growth, and police force expansion as examples of long-term costs for Morgan County that could rise with the arrival of Rivian. Christy also argued the State of Georgia is not automatically exempt from zoning standards.

“It’s not as clear as the state is making it out to be,” said Christy. “I think all of these issues will eventually make their way to the Supreme Court at some point. The goal is to stop Rivian from coming here altogether. There is absolutely a legal fight coming.”



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John Christy, a lawyer representing the local Rivian opposition, speaks outside of the Morgan County Administration building on Wednesday, May 25, vowing to launch legal challenges to stop the Rivian development from coming to Morgan County. 



Christy and anti-Rivian opponents are not alone in their concerns over the cost. Morgan County Commissioner Philipp von Hanstein acknowledged there could be more costs to fall on the county as a result of the Rivian development.

“Before the first shovel goes into the ground, before the first stone has been turned, we are already getting requests for additional staff positions, in part, because of Rivian,” said von Hanstein. “The money we would get wouldn’t even cover the new salaries needed.”

Commissioner von Hanstein said he is worried about more unforeseen costs that could fall on the county.

“We haven’t done our homework on what the costs would be. We need to figure out what this thing is going to cost us. I just do not want to go to my constituents and ask for additional funds so we can have Rivian. My concern is that we will end up subsidizing this,” said von Hanstein.

However County Commissioner Ben Riden believes the PILOTs in the long run will offset any additional costs to the county.

“Most of the cost of services will not be borne by our county,” said Riden to an anti-Rivian crowd after the tax assessor meeting Wednesday morning.



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Joint Development Authority Chairman Jerry Silvio speaks to reporters amidst anti-Rivian demonstrators following Wednesday’s meeting. 



JDA Chairman Jerry Silvio attended Wednesday morning’s tax assessor meeting, sticking around to talk with anti-Rivian locals and media outlets. Silvio brushed off threats of a legal challenge that could derail the Rivian development.

“It’s inevitable,” said Silvio. “The plan is to get everything done and buttoned up so we can have a groundbreaking by late summer. Everything is moving and progressing on the timetable that will satisfy the state and Rivian.”

Silvio stood by the JDA’s revenue-sharing agreement which allots Morgan County 14.25 percent of all future PILOTs even though more than half of the land for Rivian falls in Morgan County.

“Absolutely no question or regret on that,” said Silvio, who added Rivian was just the beginning of economic development and growth for the four counties (Morgan, Walton, Newton and Jasper). Silvio maintained that Rivian and future ancillary companies will end up shouldering any rise in costs associated with the new electric vehicle plant through property taxes.

“Rivian is going to attract first tier and second tier supplies into this area…those revenues will come in and any costs will shift to commercial categories instead of residential categories,” explained Silvio. “Once you turn on that spigot of revenue, it never stops and only grows…This is a win-win-win situation, for the people, for the state, and for Rivian.”