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AUSTIN EDITION Businesses voice support for Austin flood-relief tax

By Tim Ruzek

truzek@postbulletin.com

When flood waters soaked Austin Packaging Co. two years ago, the 250-employee plant had a $4.3 million loss.

That's why Austin Packaging co-owner Jeff Thatcher said he's comfortable with the city of Austin's plan to mitigate flooding, but is "very anxious" to get protection for his facility between the Cedar River and North Main Street.

Austin Packaging can't survive another flood of the 2004 magnitude, Thatcher said Friday at an event announcing the Vote Yes Austin Committee's campaign to pass a half-cent sales tax in November for flood relief.

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Decision hinges on results

Thatcher, who's doing marketing for Vote Yes, said afterward that his company needs to expand its current facility but first needs to know if Austin residents will pass the Nov. 7 sales-tax referendum.

If the tax fails, Austin Packaging likely will look at other sites to build, possibly ones in other cities, he said.

Austin Packaging is one of several businesses in the city's North Main area near Mill Pond that make it Austin's "economic heart," said Sandy Forstner, Austin Area Chamber of Commerce executive director.

Hormel Foods Corp., which has facilities on both sides of the river, and Quality Pork Processors also are major employers there.

On North Main, Hormel houses its worldwide computer and data system, he said. Across the river, QPP does several millions of dollars in business daily with its hog-slaughtering operation, he said.

When the city's record flood hit in September 2004, it affected at least 1,200 people employed by the nearly 80 businesses the chamber identified as being affected by flooding, he said. Some businesses, though, didn't give employee figures.

"I expect it's much higher than that," Forstner said.

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The chamber is supporting the sales tax.

"It just seems to be a problem that we need to fix," said Forstner, who also is part of Vote Yes.

Chamber members discussed the tax issues for months with some retailers showing concern about how a half-cent sales tax over 20 years would affect their sales, Forstner said. But the majority view it as sort of an insurance policy, he said.

Forstner added: "Doing nothing has a greater risk."

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