Sesaja promises 170 jobs within four years in Medina County, producer of sesame & avocado oils

All four commissioners and Judge Schuchart were present for the January 28 Commissioners Court meeting, with 16 guests present and an unknown number attending virtually.
A financial plan was approved to pay for upgrades to the county dispatch systems using a local bank at an APR of 0.8% rather than financing it through Motorola (manufacturer of the system upgrades) at a rate of 2.59%. Over the life of the $724,253 loan for the project, this decision will save the county roughly $12,000.
Sesaja to receive Letter of Intent from County for Manufacturing Facility
Sesaja, a producer of plant oils such as sesame & avocado oils, has been in talks with the City of Hondo to build a manufacturing plant near the South Texas Regional Airport and railyard on the former Air Base. 17.5 acres of this will be land belonging to the City of Hondo and is currently airport property, which may reduce opportunities for growth of the Hondo airport. The company currently manufactures their oils in Guadalajara in the state of Jalisco, Mexico, using seeds grown in the Rio Grande Valley. They then ship the products back to the U.S., which causes inefficiencies in their logistics. The new plant in Hondo would allow them to reduce logistics costs, with great access to rail transport and the potential to grow sesame in the Medina river valley.
Local farmers stand to benefit from adding sesame to their crop rotation, and Sesaja has spoken to a group of 15 farmers so far about doing just that. Sesame is a drought-resistant crop that prospers in conditions similar to cotton and takes roughly 5 frost-free months to produce. Dryland yields of 300-1,200 lb/acre and irrigated yields of 800-1,700 lb/acre were obtained in a study by A&M Agrilife, who found that sesame uses approximately 50% less water than cotton and 75% less than corn, as well as reducing nematode populations. Texas A&M Agrilife Research in San Angelo has produced an overview of the crop that is available free online and is highly informative for farmers interested in adding it to their rotation.
The City of Hondo is offering a 10-year city tax abatement plan which will start at 100% abatement on year one and decrease linearly to a 10% abatement on year 10. Sesaja must meet several job creation and investment goals to earn this tax cut. The estimated impact of the project is the creation of 10 local jobs in year one, with 170 jobs created over 48 months, with an average salary of $40,000 for a total of $6.8 million in salaries over 4 years. Commissioners Court voted to issue the letter of intent, meaning the county plans to follow Hondo’s lead on allowing the company to move in. Some discussion was had during the vote and the sentiment was that jobs are the only thing that will keep future generations from moving away to San Antonio and other big cities, and this will be a good opportunity for jobs.

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Modern County Ag facility proposed, No action taken
Scott Simpton of the Medina County Junior Livestock Show (MCJLS) presented an initial proposal for a modern county show compound which would be composed of several facilities on one 50 to 100-acre plot of land which could be used for livestock shows, fairs, concerts, graduations, receptions and other large events. This project has been slowly building support, with 1,600 signatures collected at various businesses and events in the county. Mr. Simpton drew parallels to similar facilities to the Uvalde Fairplex, Kendall County Youth Ag Center and the JB Wells center in Gonzalez, and noted that no equivalent is present in Medina County. Simpton described a facility that had multiple components such as an arena, amphitheater, show barns, temporary or permanent horse stalls and RV hookups—all available for rent, separately or as a whole facility. The location would be central to the county, and would not ‘belong’ to any one community; access to a state highway and utilities are also criteria for choosing where to put it, should the project come to fruition.
An initial estimate of $6 million was used to figure out how this would impact taxpayers, and a few models to absorb this cost were presented, varying from a 1¢ per $100 ($10 per $100,000 valuation) tax increase to a plan with no tax increase. Year-to-year tax valuation growth in the county has averaged 6.5% over the last 10 years, largely due to the encroachment of San Antonio in the Northeast of the County. The first model assumes no growth, with a 1¢ tax increase, which would raise $10 million. That is considered absolute worst case tax scenario. The second model is a structured tax increase and assumes no growth: a .8¢ tax increase for 4 years then a reduction to below .5¢. The third model assumes 5% growth (which is 1.5% less than the 10-year average) and would result in no increase to the tax rate.
Commissioner Larry Sittre (Pct. 2) has been receiving numerous calls from developers for the Northeast part of the county and supports the idea that growth will be able to cover this project without changing rates. Sittre said there are “Developers and Lawyers behind every bush,” and despite the expected growth in the county, “We never set our budget based on houses that might be built, only what we currently have.” He noted that 5 subdividers had called him in a 4-day period in the prior week.
Commissioner Jerry Beck (Pct. 4) expressed concern over the increasing tax levy that has resulted from higher property valuations even without an increase in tax rate, stating “We raised it some time ago and said we’d lower it and we haven’t lowered it yet.” He has been outspoken against increasing tax bills for several years, as the Commissioners Court can change the tax rate but cannot control that property values have been assessed higher and higher each year.
All four commissioners were in agreement that if the project moves forward, it will only be after the voters have approved it via a ballot vote. No action was taken at the meeting to move forward with this process, but the MCJLS was encouraged to build support through community outreach.
Other Business
4 sealed bids were received for expansion of the Castroville county annex building, ranging from $724k to $825k, with addendums made for a possible change to the scope of the program. The lowest bid was accepted from NC Construction, and the cost will be either $724,000 or $639,000, depending on if Emergency Service District 1 (ESD1) comes in with the county on the project; if they do come, then additional space will be created upstairs for ESD1 and they will pay their share per square foot.
A quote was accepted for creation of a “Zoom Room System” in the Devine annex, totaling $11,704. This upgrade to facilities is required by the Texas Supreme Court and is for Pct. 4 Justice of the Peace Court under Judge Tomas “Tommy” Ramirez. The project provides audio-visual connectivity to the courtroom to allow for the facility to operate remotely as many courtrooms already do. It comes with a 1-year warranty for workmanship in addition to manufacturer’s warranties for most equipment.
The court approved the resignation of the Juan Cuellar, William Marshall & Patrick Bourcier from ESD4 Board of Directors and the appointment of Billy Alvarado, Shelly Watson & Anthony Watson for the same.
Approval of a construction contract with RAM II Contractors INC for water improvements to Benton City WSC (Grant Administrator) was given as part of a Texas Community Development Block Grant, valued at $257,747.99.
Participation in the San Antonio Task force was approved, and will include cooperation between the Medina County Sheriff’s Office and other local, state & federal law enforcement to combat drug trafficking and abuse in the San Antonio area.
Preliminary approval was given to vacate and replat Lot 27-A in San Antonio Trust Subdivision, creating Lee Crisp Subdivision Lot 1 & 2in Pct. 2 off of CR 583. This was requested by a landowner to formalize the split of a property.
Preliminary approval was given to vacate and replat Lot 37Highway 90 Ranch Subdivision in Pct. 2 off of CR 4612, wherein 6 acres were sold to a neighbor and 1 was kept by the owner. The Next step to final approval is public posting and hearing for the change.
By Kyle G. Saathoff
Staff Writer