CPSB gives support to Syrah tax break

Published 3:40 pm Friday, December 10, 2021

VIDALIA — The Concordia Parish School Board on Thursday agreed to sign a letter of support for renewal a 10-year tax break given to Syrah Technology’s graphite milling plant.

The company is requesting a renewal of an 80% reduction in property taxes as the company works on a planned $137.5 million expansion project at the Vidalia facility.

School officials said the reduction does slash some revenue that could come to the school district through the property tax. However, it would not be a reduction from the current year while the new company is still receiving a previously approved tax break.

Concordia Parish School Board president Fred Butcher also said the exemption only applies to property tax, not other taxes, which could increase over time.

“When they start bringing all of their new equipment in, we should start to see some money from that,” he said.

A motion to send a letter of support for the tax break passed 7-0 with board member Raymond Riley absent. Nicky Pere, who sat in John Bostic’s seat on the board for the first time Thursday, was unable to vote until the Secretary of State’s Office approves the school board’s decision to appoint him temporarily until a special election is held. Bostic stepped down from the school board before the end of his term effective Nov. 1.

While no one objected to the tax break with their vote, some members questioned the technology company’s environmental efficacy and whether it would keep promises made to the parish.

Syrah specializes in milling graphite shipped to Vidalia from a mine in Mozambique to produce active anode material, a resource used to power lithium-ion batteries that are used in electric vehicles.

In announcing this expansion, company officials have said they would produce enough material to take approximately 300,000 gas-powered engines off of the road while producing a minimal and harmless amount of emissions into the local environment.

Board member Rickey Raven asked whether the company would keep its commitment to hiring its employees locally.

“Another thing they said is they’re going to hire local talent. … It seems like if we’re doing something for them, they should be willing to do something for us,” he said.

In other matters during Thursday’s meeting of the Concordia Parish School Board, Superintendent Toyua Watson updated the board on a couple of grants recently received for furthering the district’s educational goals. Watson said a $650,000 grant was received for the Ferriday High School Freshman Academy program. She also said a grant was received to allow sophomore and junior level students to take their ACT exam free at no cost to the school district, allowing them to continue their goal of encouraging more students to take the exam before their senior year.

The school board also received an update from Volkert Inc., the contracted firm on the Monterey High School gym building project.

Marco Gonzalez, who recently replaced Bob Bernard as the project manager upon Bernard’s resignation from Volkert Inc., said the steel frame for the new gym is 95% complete.

The projected completion date of the gym is in June, however, Gonzalez said it could potentially be finished ahead of Monterey High School’s graduation in May.

“I think that is too long in my opinion,” he said. “Based on where we are, I think we can get it done sooner than that.”