Processes to Approve Costco Not Always Open to the Public

While some local governments welcome Costco into their community with open arms, the residents don’t always agree–and sometimes don’t even have input into the decision until approvals and zoning changes are already done.

In Corpus Christi, Texas, the local planners tried to keep the process out of the public eye until zoning changes were completed and the incentive package Costco wanted was already in place. See the details in this article from the Corpus Christi Caller Times in 2014, titled “Public Left Out of Costco Talks in Corpus Christi.”

The city claimed that they could not detail their negotiations on incentives, including tax breaks, until the process was completed and the city council was voting on it. According to the Caller Times:

“The city, by its own policies, can’t let the public know until it’s time for a city board or council to vote. If a request for incentives never reaches that point, there’s no opportunity for public debate.”

The newspaper ultimately had to go to the Texas Attorney General for a Freedom of Information ruling that allowed them to learn the details of the negotiations.

According to Corpus Christi’s president of the Economic Development authority Roland Mower:

“Policymaking is the best place for public involvement. Taxpayers should let their council members know what kinds of companies they want to attract and the range of incentives they’re willing to dole out for those companies when the council sets policy.

“Then, negotiation of specific deals and the names of specific companies can be done in private until it’s time for a city board to vote.” (text taken from the Caller Times article)

The article also details another case of Costco approval, this one in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, where the local commission met in closed session to debate public financing for the project, but notified the public of its intentions and then published minutes of the meeting. See here for more details on that project’s approvals.

Ultimately, the Lehigh County commissioners used Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to get the project approved, giving up $237,000 in future tax revenue.

According to the Allentown Morning Call newspaper,

“The debate over the shopping center was less about the development itself than philosophies over the use of tax dollars for private interests. Among the more than 100 people who wrote to the township with their opinions on the proposal were critics who called it corporate welfare. Over the past few weeks, 33 people wrote to the board in opposition to the plan, 22 wrote in favor of it.”