City council tax-incentive vote for China-based Jinko Solar postponed amid federal investigation

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – After Councilman Matt Carlucci called for the Jacksonville City Council to hold off on voting on a $2.3 million grant for Jinko Solar on Tuesday night, the decision was made to postpone the vote.

It had been on the council’s agenda for its 5 p.m. meeting.

The mayor’s office said the vote was postponed until a later date but the bill has not been pulled entirely.

The postponement comes after federal agents and the Department of Homeland Security on Monday executed a search warrant at the China-based company’s solar panel plant at Cecil Commerce Center. Homeland Security did not disclose the reason for the warrant but said it’s part of an ongoing federal investigation.

“We cannot, in good conscience and in light of an active federal investigation, move forward. Until investigations are complete, I believe we—as elected leaders and gatekeepers of this city—should press pause on any further legislative, permitting, and/or funding actions. It is my hope that a positive outcome will prevail, and our city may continue to grow and diversify,” Carlucci wrote in an email to members of the city council.

Carlucci said one of the concerns he has is about who is involved in the investigation.

“The biggest thing that concerned me is the Homeland Security,” he said. “It’s 23 miles from our Naval base, close to our schools and close to Boeing. I don’t want to make any accusations and I hope the best for everybody.”

According to the Jacksonville Daily Record, the company said it plans to invest more than $52 million in its Cecil Commerce Center plant and create another 250 jobs by 2026 if the city agrees to a grant of $2.3 million over 10 years. The tax incentive would be equal to 50% of the increase in ad valorem taxes paid by the company over the first 10 years.

China-based Jinko Solar opened the 283,652-square-foot facility in the fourth quarter of 2018 to make solar panels for residential and commercial uses across the United States. It is the company’s only U.S. manufacturing plant.

Carlucci said he didn’t want to postpone the vote but withdraw it.

“If you withdraw it that takes that red flag off the agenda and allows us to reintroduce the bill when the investigation is over,” Carlucci said.

Carlucci said the investigation might also be a learning opportunity.

“There might be a message here to us as a city council and administration to double down a little bit when we vet companies, whoever they are, about tax incentives,” he said.

When Jinko Solar first came to Jacksonville the city agreed to a $3.2 million grant as the company said it would invest $40 million and create 200 jobs.

There were several other city council members who were in agreement with Carlucci’s proposal to withdraw the legislation until more is known, including Councilman Nick Howland and City Council President Terrance Freeman. News4JAX reached out to Jinko Solar officials about the federal investigation but have not heard back yet.

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Tarik anchors the 4, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. weekday newscasts and reports with the I-TEAM.