Thursday, February 15, 2001

Hamilton considers tax breaks to keep paper mill


Worried workers attend City Council meeting

By Michael D. Clark
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        HAMILTON — Nervous workers from the recently purchased International Paper plant made a silent appearance at a City Council meeting Wednesday evening, but were reluctant to speak publicly during sweeping company layoffs.

        Dozens of current and former employees of what is now Smart Papers LLC came to the meeting, where officials discussed granting tax incentives to keep the B Street Mill operating under its new ownership.

        Council is considering a 10-year, 100 percent reduction on real and tangible personal property tax for Smart Papers. The package is designed to entice the firm, which bought the B Street Mill from International Paper last week, to stay in Hamilton.

        Of the mill's 800 workers, 250 learned over the weekend that they lost their jobs in the ownership change, and many remaining employees face pay cuts.

        Labor union officials rep resenting plant workers declined to comment, but an official from an affiliated union attending the meeting said he understood.

        “It's self-preservation. All the cuts are not done yet,” said Ronnie Wardrup, a representative of the United Steelworkers of America of Ohio.

        He said workers at the mill strongly oppose tax incentives for Smart Papers because they think it would reward and encourage more sharp cuts in the mill's work force and pay scale.

        Smart Papers officials were unavailable for comment.

        City Council is scheduled to vote on the tax package at its next meeting Feb. 28.

        Councilwoman Kathy Becker said she plans to talk further with workers in the next two weeks before deciding whether she'll support giving the plant's new owner a tax break. Ms. Becker said her preliminary stance is to oppose the incentives.

        Fellow council member Richard Holzberger said he is leaning toward supporting the tax breaks but with clear restrictions.

       



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