By Karen SchmidtThe Republic | azcentral.com Tue Nov 19, 2013 11:00 AM
The Gilbert Public Schools’ governing board on Monday voted 5-0 in favor of allowing a tax break for Apple Inc., meaning the tech giant can continue with its plans to open a manufacturing plant in Mesa.
Monday’s vote came before a standing-room-only crowd and followed a brief meeting with no debate.
By contrast, the five-member board was unable to reach a decision during an hour of contentious debate at a Nov. 12 board meeting.
The fate of the high-profile deal potentially worth hundreds of jobs seemed to hang in the balance, with the school district being the last of eight governing entities needed to approve a property reclassification that would entitle the premier tech company to a tax break.
The board’s inability to reach a consensus during its Nov. 12 board meeting worried Valley boosters and community members.
Two board members were in favor and two were opposed. The board president, Staci Burk, often the swing vote on the board, told The Arizona Republic on Thursday that she was in favor of the deal.
Officials earlier lauded Apple’s Nov. 4 announcement that it was buying the now-vacant First Solar Inc. building at Signal Butte and Elliot roads.
The move is expected to pour $1 billion into the economy and bring 700 permanent and 1,300 temporary construction jobs to the Valley.
Board member Jill Humpherys, who was in favor of the deal since the beginning, said since last Tuesday’s meeting she had received 450 e-mails from the community in support of the deal.
The public was not allowed to comment during the meeting, but clapped loudly during Humpherys’ and board member Lily Tram’s statements that they continued to support the deal with Apple.
“Additional revenue with the foreign-trade zone and with the major corporation that will come in means a decrease in property taxes for our businesses and residential areas,” Tram said. “This is really a win-win for everybody.”
Board member Julie Smith had originally stated she was against the proposal because she didn’t believe in tax breaks for large corporations.
During the meeting on Monday, she said she had enough time to do research and ask questions of officials and believed the deal would be beneficial to the community.
“This school board does ask questions,” Smith said to murmurs from the audience. “We do want all the information we need to make an informed decision.”
But she said she planned to campaign legislators and the governor to change portions of the tax law with which she felt the community didn’t agree.
Board member Daryl Colvin, who had said he was against the deal, said Monday night that after meeting with officials he now believed it would be beneficial to taxpayers.
“I hope someday our business climate has become so excellent that companies can locate here without any special considerations, but I’m willing to grant these,” he said.
Humpherys and Tram at the Nov. 12 meeting had questioned their fellow board member’s statements that they needed more information and more time, saying information about the deal was sent to board members 18 days before the meeting.
Humpherys charged that Smith’s and Colvin’s qualms were motivated by “political ideology.”
“I’m not looking to see whether I agree with tax breaks or not,” Humpherys told The Republic. “My focus is on education, not on politics.”
Burk apologized for the delay in the vote and said she had “appreciated hearing from the governor.”