Zurn closing sparks comments from citizen

Commerce – There were a lot of "sleepless nights" among city officials when trying to figure a way to help Zurn Pex from going under, according to Commerce Mayor Quay Throgmorton.

Zurn announced Tuesday they would begin in May the first string of layoffs that would ultimately lead to the dismissal of 108 employees. The job cuts are blamed on the decline in the home building industry.

A concerned citizen, who wished to remain anonymous, tells KETR the city should have done and needs to do more to help Zurn.

Citizen: "They need to have an emergency meeting and jump up and help them."

About two months ago, Zurn officials approached the City Council and Commerce Economic Development Corporation seeking help, amid thoughts of consolidating operations at either their Commerce plant or one in Indiana. During that meeting Zurn mentioned the vast increase in expenses, namely property taxes; it must pay in Texas when compared to the State of Indiana.

According to Mayor Throgmorton, the City looked into the feasibility of providing tax abatements for the company. In the end, officials found the abatements would be too high for the city to fund; and thought without a clear end to the economic downturn in sight, there was no way of knowing how long the city would need to provide the additional assistance. They also wanted to be fair to other companies, such as Covidien, should they in the future need assistance.

The ECD did express an interest in purchasing some property from Zurn to help offset some of its costs but, according to Throgmorton, apparently wasn't going to be enough for Zurn.

The concerned citizen says the there's a lot of money being overspent in Commerce and that the city is not pro-business.

Mayor Throgmorton denied the comments regarding overspending, noting the city's willingness to forgo hiring a new Parks and Recreation Director and instead shifted the responsibility to the Community Development Department to save money. He also mentioned the city's decision not to fill two other positions that have recently come open, including the position of a utility billing clerk and an assistant judge court clerk.

"We're trying to plan for this coming up year and years down the road and making sure we're being fiscally responsible," says Throgmorton. "We're not out there wasting tax payer's dollars; we're trying to be very cautious with how we're spending money."

Regarding the issue of a business-friendly city, the citizen said there's a lack of cooperation with area businesses such as the Hunt Memorial Hospital District. The citizen cited the city's recent lack of approval of an ordinance complying with the Hospital District's smoking ban on all of its campuses. He also mentioned the inability of the city to work out a contract with Emergency Corps as the city's first responder.

Throgmorton shot down the allegations. He cited two recent presentations presented before the city's EDC from retail recruitment companies about conducting studies pertaining to what potential retailers would be interesting in coming to Commerce.

"We're trying to be proactive and find companies that would like to come into town; not only manufacturing but retail to help bring jobs into the community."

EDC Director Jennette Burnett as well as other city officials in the coming weeks will begin working with Zurn administrators and employees about future job opportunities in the region. Throgmorton talked about working with the Texas Workforce Commission, communicating with other neighboring businesses and the possibility of having a job fair to help those who are losing their jobs.

Zurn employs individuals from several surrounding communities including the cities of Commerce, Cooper, Greenville and Sulphur Springs. The company manufactures and distributes plumbing product packages, with headquarters in Erie, Pennsylvania.