Memphis chamber fires back after PILOT program attacked

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Believe it or not, Memphis often makes it on the short list when companies are looking to set up shop. The Chamber of Commerce will tell you that’s because of the city’s tax incentive package.

Dexter Muller said, “All of these cities start to look the same. They are making the decision on where they are going to go, and the pilot is usually the determining factor.”

The chamber just released a video and hopes it spreads across the city. It explains why the payment in lieu of taxes program, also known as PILOTs, is so important.

City workers blame these PILOTS as one reason the city is hiking health care premiums and cutting benefits for some retirees.

Memphis Police Association President Mike Williams said, “A lot of the businesses may not be bringing anything to the table other than, they provide jobs.”

But Muller argues without those jobs there wouldn’t be any money coming in to help boost the city’s budget. He says big and small businesses can take advantage of the cuts and bring in hundreds or thousands of jobs.

“We’ve got 180,000 people here living in poverty. we have got to do something about that. It’s not fair to those people to not bring in those jobs. The PILOT program is a critical part it what it takes to do that.”

Muller pointed to the Mitsubishi Plant in South Memphis. Before the company came in the city collected $40,000 from the plot of land. Now it collects $700,000 annually, and brought in 200 jobs.

Muller says without big tax incentives, those jobs and property tax money would be in Texas right now.

While Williams admits that may be true, he believes the incentives last way too long.

“A lot of cities give businesses pilots for three to five years. We’re issuing 10-, 15-, 20-, 30-year pilots. That is crazy!”

City Council members say the pilot program may be cut in the future.

Chamber officials say they are on board with fixing the city’s financial situation because it doesn’t matter how many tax incentives they offer no company wants to move to a city that’s on track to be the next Detroit.

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