Detroit to monitor Marathon's hiring practices

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DETROIT (AP) -- Detroit officials plan to monitor Marathon Petroleum's hiring practices more closely to ensure that the company is making an effort to hire city residents, officials said.

Marathon got a $175 million tax break from the City of Detroit for a $2.2 billion expansion project at its refinery in southwest Detroit. The personal property tax abatement was awarded after Marathon in 2007 appealed to City Council, pledging to recruit Detroiters for new jobs.

"In a city with double-digit unemployment, any company that's receiving a tax abatement of nearly $180 million should be giving more back, including hiring residents," Councilwoman Saunteel Jenkins said.

Marathon employs 514 full-time workers at its refinery, and 30 workers are listed as Detroit residents as of January, the Detroit Free Press reported (http://on.freep.com/1gw2yuY ). In 2007, when the city approved the tax abatement, the refinery employed about 320 people, 15 of whom were Detroit residents.

Representatives of Findlay, Ohio-based Marathon said the company wants to hire more Detroiters but has had difficulty finding qualified applicants. They said Marathon funds a scholarship program at Henry Ford Community College designed to promote local hiring, but some of the available scholarships have gone unfilled.

"We would like nothing better than to have a higher percentage of Detroit residents in our workforce," refinery general manager Tracy Case told Council members during a discussion on the company's hiring practices planning and economic development committee meeting last month.

"We are aligned in that desire, but there are certain difficulties and challenges and obligations we have to our company to find the best people to work for us," Case said, adding that Detroit residency would be a tie-breaker in a hiring choice between two similarly qualified candidates.

Portia Roberson, Mayor Mike Duggan's group executive for ethics and civil rights, has been asked to further review Marathon's hiring of Detroit residents. She is expected to report back to City Council in six months.

In 2007, a city analysis estimated that the expansion would generate $181 million in income taxes, real property taxes and other fees for the city over two decades.

"I want to give everybody the benefit of the doubt, but also I want Detroit residents to see where their tax dollars are going when you're talking about tax abatements," Council President Brenda Jones said. "I want them to have the same fair chance that anybody else has."

The city has agreed to 23 personal property tax abatements for various companies since 1998. The state treasurer has final approval of the exemptions, which are granted for a specific period, not for a specific dollar amount. The city typically forecasts the revenue involved.

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Information from: Detroit Free Press, http://www.freep.com