By Ralph Dickerson
Last Wednesday Aleris made an announcement that sent shockwaves through the Hancock County community; the company shut the plant down for at least two weeks. How does shutting down the plant impact the county? The Hancock Clarion interviewed Hancock County Judge/Executive Johnny “Chic” Roberts concerning the financial impact to the county.
Judge Roberts said the plant’s closing impacts the county in several ways. First, the county loses at least two week’s of occupational tax revenue from the plant. Aleris employs roughly 800 workers, and pays the county roughly $29,000 per week in occupational tax, Roberts said. Even when the plant reopens, the county will not recoup the revenue lost during the plant’s closure.
“We have been blessed here in this community to have the industry that we have,” Roberts said. “We have the occupational tax that the county takes in that helps us secure some of the services we provide to our citizens. Any time that is impacted, that is certainly concerning.”
The plant’s closing not only affects the current budget, due to the unexpected loss of revenue, but to the 2021-22 budget the county is in the process of drafting. Right now a big question mark hangs over the entire process. No doubt exists the COVID-19 pandemic will throw the country into a recession; the only question is how severe of a recession will it be? What will unemployment be later this year and going forward?
“The difficult thing about this is it is a situation none of us have seen before,” Roberts said. “How long of an impact will this have? What will this look like with industry? Where is unemployment going by November? Those are questions we cannot answer. It makes it difficult to draft a budget without knowing even an estimate of income regarding the occupational tax.”
Roberts said prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the local, state and national economy was strong. He said when the pandemic runs its course, he hopes the economy rebounds quickly.
“I think everybody is ready to get back to normal,” Roberts said.
Aleris closed the Lewisport facility in response to the COVID-19 pandemic closing down automobile manufacturers in this country. Ford, GM and Chrysler shuttered their facilities for the time being. Communications Director Jason Saragian sent the Hancock Clarion this statement regarding the shut down.
“In response to our major automotive customers announcing temporary production shutdowns, coupled with uncertainty in other markets, we are making the difficult decision to suspend production at our Lewisport site for two weeks, or until we have worked through the full extend of COVID-19’s impact on our customers,” Saragian said in the statement. “The decision will take effect Monday morning, March 30, and at this point we are targeting April 13 to restart production.”
No matter what the future holds, Judge Roberts expressed confidence the community can weather this storm and come out well.
“We have a strong community,” Roberts said. “We will get through this together.”
By Ralph Dickerson