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VOL. 128 | NO. 181 | Tuesday, September 17, 2013

City Council Considers Tax Incentive Changes

By Bill Dries

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Memphis City Council members will be parsing contract terms and clauses during a busy Tuesday, Sept. 13, set of committee meetings and the afternoon voting meeting of the full council.

They review a lease agreement for Handy Park in the Beale Street entertainment district and revisit a new solid waste plan agreed to by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.’s administration and the union representing sanitation workers.

Memphis City Council members take up a new lease for Handy Park during Tuesday, Sept. 17, committee sessions.

(Daily News File/Lance Murphey)

The council also returns to the politically sensitive topic of tax breaks for economic development.

It’s an issue the council has previously debated as an offshoot of other issues. That changes Tuesday.

The council gets its first look during a 12:30 p.m. committee session at a proposal from Wharton to devote a portion from payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements the city has been collecting to use in blighted areas.

Council member Harold Collins is proposing to drop the percentage of tax abatement the Economic Development Growth Engine board can award a project.

He is specifically proposing that the PILOT tax breaks go from a maximum city property tax abatement of 90 percent over 15 years to 75 percent for the same number of years. The 75 percent is the current cap for abatements of county property taxes. If approved, the change in the city percentage would take effect with PILOT applications that go to the EDGE board for approval starting Jan. 1.

Under Collins’ resolution, the EDGE board could go over the 75 percent city property tax abatement only with approval of a waiver from the City Council.

Wharton’s proposal would put to use $508,389 in personal property fees developers have paid as part of their PILOTs since 2009. It would transfer that amount to EDGE to be used as an inner-city development fund.

The fund’s first two priorities are the Soulsville area of South Memphis and Binghampton. They are two of the three areas in which the city’s Innovation Delivery Team has been working using funding from the Bloomberg Philanthropies.

The general purpose of inner-city development was established for the funds when the fee was established in 2009, but “no guidance was given on how the fees can be used,” according to a council summary sheet.

The wording in the 2009 change is that the money is to be used to “facilitate and strengthen inner-city economic recovery.” And the fee is 5 percent of city property taxes due, up to $50,000.

The fee remains in place, and the revenue from that collected going forward also goes to the EDGE board for economic development.

No vote on either item is on the agenda for the full council session, which begins at 3:30 p.m. at City Hall, 125 N. Main St.

The Handy Park lease and a proposed increase of the city’s monthly solid waste fee back to $25.05 are items on which the council delayed voting at its last meeting in August.

Council members had lots of questions at their Aug. 20 session about why the Handy Park lease agreement wasn’t opened to a request for proposals and some kind of bid process.

The proposed lease with five-year terms is between the city of Memphis and Handy Park LLC, a group led by restaurant operator Bud Chittom and other tenants in the district.

City attorney Herman Morris said the limited liability corporation would assume payments of a loan Beale developer John Elkington took out for improvements to the park and is part of a larger federal bankruptcy court settlement involving the district. A settlement including the lease puts the city a step closer to day-to-day control and long-term control of the district as well as Elkington’s exit from developing the district since its 1983 reopening.

The solid waste plan was delayed twice in August by the council because of questions about details beyond the immediate first steps of raising the fee to what it was at the end of June and spending money from the fee to update a fleet of garbage vehicles that are, in most cases, 17 years old. The plan would also add 100 more stops to each garbage route per day and fund a retirement supplement for sanitation workers that would be capped at $1,000 a month.

The retirement is to be funded from savings expected from the new method of handling sanitation services, not from the increase in the solid waste fee.

PROPERTY SALES 57 280 1,209
MORTGAGES 55 244 916
BUILDING PERMITS 158 699 2,751