The Commission is not convinced by the retail PILOT option

Jasper, TN. – The Marion County Commission in Tennessee last night rejected an option to issue retail payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) after a vote of seven to seven with one abstention. With the promise of a major retailer coming to the region, naysayers spoke of the discomfort of giving new businesses an edge over existing retailers who had endured the ebb and flow of the market over the years. Proponents cited the investments and jobs that come with these retailers.

The Commission has not been deterred from the value of these PILOT programs in recent history, but has reserved them for the industrial sector and the promise of manufacturing jobs. Tonight’s vote, to be fair, was a vote on the guidelines that the Commission would even consider a PILOT program for a retailer versus looking at a specific project, ostensibly. The Commission hosted a workshop earlier in the month where it outlined the minimum requirements that would need to be met for any of these retail pilots to be considered. These were:

  • Capital investment of at least $10 million in real estate, personal property, or a combination of the two
  • The project should create at least 40 new full-time jobs
  • Jobs created must have an average hourly wage of at least 70% of the county average hourly wage at the time of program consideration
  • Generating other revenue on the project, including sales tax, occupancy tax, or other taxes that would benefit the county
  • Other considerations such as the expected resources the project could bring in, among others that are not currently available in the county

Commissioner Joey Blevins said: ‘The county has never done this[for]a retail establishment and for us to move forward with this, I think that’s wrong. It is unfair to our constituents who have built buildings, hired employees, dedicated their lives to situations that have arisen and asked for tax relief. And for someone to come here to provide the same services as our current citizens…the new ones want tax relief to give them an advantage that others don’t have, that’s a mistake. Blevins also mentioned that the criteria established by the Commission was exactly what a potential retailer in the area was asking for and that the benefit was only for large businesses and not small businesses. As was the case with previous industrial PILOT programs currently in effect in the county, the school portion of taxes is excluded from the program and is still collected from the employer. When discussions ended and the roll-call vote was taken, Council was found to be divided as Commissioners Abbott, Adkins, Grayson, Reames, Franklin, Skiles and Kirk voted to approve, while commissioners Matt Blansett, Blevins, Cookston, Hargis, Nunley, Reeves and Thompson voted against, with Donald Blansett abstaining. The vote totaling seven to seven with one abstention left the measure unpassed.

Commissioners Gene Hargis, Kenny Cookston, Mack Reeves and Steve Franklin discussing hiring someone to help clear the backlog of septic permits.

One issue on which the council seemed unanimous after some discussion was the hiring of an “environmental scientist” for the county. Most residents will be pleased to hear that despite the arguably lofty title, a slew of homebuilders will appreciate the rental. Currently, county residents who build homes on property without access to municipal or commercial sewer service are, of course, required to use septic systems. As the system currently exists, an inspector employed by the State of Tennessee is responsible for approving these inspections, allowing the building to continue on these structures. As has been periodically presented to the Commission over the years, the current operating procedure appears to be creating a significant backlog.

County Mayor David Jackson presented a solution saying, “Either late November or early December the finance committee met and the issue arose in getting septic permits approved. Talk with [County Building Inspector] Gabe Yeargan, we have people waiting six months or eight months to get their septic system approved. So the finance committee thought it would be a good idea if we hired our own. We advertised for this position and received fourteen applications. We interviewed two of them. Both are currently working on the ground, but we need the County Commission to approve this position. This person will work under Gabe in the Office of Building Inspectors. Jackson also said funding for the position will be generated through the permit fee structure “as the state has done.” Jackson admitted salary was not discussed, but “somewhere between $45,000 and $48,000” was the mayor’s response when pressed for an estimate.

Commissioner Steve Franklin shared a concern he had previously expressed that this was the first time he had heard of the potential position and that “the county commission was made up of 15 of us , not five. Commissioner Reeves spoke in favor of the measure. “Here is the problem, being a member of the Planning Commission, what has happened is that a lot of planning documents are blocked because we cannot get them signed appropriately or within the deadlines as we should. Now if the ball was dropped and it didn’t come before this full [board], it’s been discussed for probably a year, or six months by people who saw what happened because these people who want their houses built were held back because they couldn’t get signed the flat so they can go ahead to do the work needed to get the house built to get it…on the tax rolls. We’ve been there, I’ve been here eight years, and it’s been a problem since I’ve been here. It’s not that we’re just trying to hire someone to give someone a job or to increase the number of employees. We discussed this for the simple reason that the citizens of Marion County deserve to be able to get a flat signed and move onto a property without having to wait two, three, four months to get [inspected].” Franklin reiterated that he wasn’t opposed to the concept, just the way it was done.

The next monthly meeting of the Commission will be held March 28 at 6:00 p.m. at the Lawson Building at 300 Ridley Lane in Jasper.

Aurora J. William