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Framingham Town Meeting members pass TJX tax break agreement

Posted by Jaclyn Reiss  May 22, 2012 09:58 PM

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Worried that a major employer might leave, Framingham town meeting members Tuesday night passed a measure forgiving taxes on a $143-million expansion of the TJX corporate headquarters in exchange for the company staying in town and adding jobs.

The agreement calls for TJX to maintain 1,600 permanent jobs and create 225 new jobs over the next several years, and to invest $143 million for on-site expansion, renovations to existing buildings, and acquisition costs.

In exchange for these commitments, Framingham would forgive taxes on the $143 million expansion over 20 years.

"When I look at this article, I don’t see any downsides - all I see are upsides," said Framingham resident Irwin Blumer. "If Town Meeting chooses to support this, we will be saying publicly that we are a town that is friendly to business."

And support it, they did: the article passed in less than two hours with 139 positive votes. Only one person voted against the proposal, while two people abstained.

The agreement comes during growing worries that TJX corporate headquarters would relocate to Marlborough after officials there granted tax relief to the company. TJX is buying two office buildings for about $72 million in Marlborough.

Marlborough had agreed to forgive the company’s taxes on a $30 million expansion over 30 years, a deal worth millions of dollars for the company over that time period.

The Framingham tax break agreement would only exempt the $143 million expansion - the town would retain an estimated $64.8 million in existing property base taxes over the next 20 years, plus an additional $7.4 million to $9.2 million in taxes not exempt from the expansion.

TJX, in turn, would save between $7.6 million and $9.4 million from the exemptions, depending on what type of building the company decides to build on the nearby vacant cement lot.

According to the exemption schedule drafted by the town, TJX would receive a property tax exemption of 75 percent for 2013, slowly working up to an exemption of 90 percent for 2017 through 2019, and then slowly working the exemption rate down to 5 percent by 2032.

The agreement also would require the company to acquire 225 new permanent, full-time employees by 2017, starting with 25 new positions in 2013 and another 75 in 2014.

Framingham CFO Mary Ellen Kelley said the exemption would also not affect the town's property tax levy, which recently left residents smoldering as they saw an 11 percent hike - double last year's increase.

Framingham town officials also celebrated the company's acceptance of clawback language, requiring the corporation to pay back some of the exemption if they fail to meet hiring requirements, and all of the exemption if they shut down or move headquarters.

While Framingham has granted numerous tax breaks in the past few decades - such as to Staples in 1997, Computer Associate Technologies in 1998, and the Arcade Development Project in 2005 - the TJX agreement is the only one that includes clawback provisions, said town counsel Chris Petrini.

"When TJX moved to Marlborough, they had a tax break there," Petrini said. "We looked at our agreement to make it as strong, or stronger, than the agreement with Marlborough, and I would say ours is stronger."

TJX, which operates chains such as HomeGoods, T.J. Maxx, and Marshalls, is among the state’s largest companies, with 11,000 employees in Massachusetts.

The agreement will be forwarded to the Massachusetts Economic Assistance Coordinating Council during its next regularly-scheduled board meeting on June 26.

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