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Commission considers redevelopment plans


Staff Writer

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The Washington County Commission didn’t take a vote related to a redevelopment and urban renewal plan, tax increment financing related to the John Sevier Building or the Mitch Cox PILOT project agreement.

But commissioners sure deliberated over them during a presentation to the commission.

The commission unanimously voted to remove the items from the agenda after Chairman Greg Matherly told the commission the Johnson City Development Authority asked that the commission to postpone the vote until next month’s meeting. Matherly added that the Mitch Cox PILOT agreement was requested to be removed from the meeting agenda and has not been rescheduled to be back on the commission’s agenda.

Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership’s CEO Mitch Miller spoke to the commission on TIFs and PILOTS as part of the county mayor’s report.

Miller told the commission that TIFs were created to better undesirable areas and create redevelopment opportunities and were used throughout the state. He also said that Knoxville currently has 47 TIF or PILOT projects in the works while Johnson City has about 10.

“When you’re not growing as a region,” Miller said, “We have to do everything we can to attract people to come here and build jobs.”

Alicia Summers, NETREP’s vice president of business development, explained that PILOT plans allow industrial development boards to discount, reduce or freeze property taxes for up to 20 years.

She also explained that each plan made with companies is different from another and thus requires a different amount of jobs created. When asked where some of those companies stood on jobs created, Summers said reports aren’t required from the groups until 2020. She added that she can gather that information to bring back to the commission.

Commissioner Kent Harris said he felt it was important to see that these companies produced what was promised.

“I think every job is important,” Harris said. “I don’t want to do anything to hurt any of these places. There are other people we aren’t giving breaks to. There’s a lot of talk of, ‘is it fair to give to one and not another?’ I know anyone can ask, but who decides? I think they need to live up to the bargain.”

Meanwhile, Commissioner Robbie Tester said he felt transparency is important for the commission as well as the public relating to the PILOT and TIF plans.

“The issue is the terms of agreements being different and we don’t know the terms,” Tester said. “The public doesn’t and when we ask, there’s no public answer. It’s in the email. We represent the public. The transparency is the issue.”

Commissioner Jodi Jones added that she felt the commission wasn’t only interested in seeing success from those companies in Washington County; she said she felt it was important that the commission know how much these newly created jobs pay and what they’re offering.

“It’s not just that they’re successful,” Jones said, “it’s also that they give opportunities.”

Matherly suggested that the commission consider holding a future workshop with NETREP to go over the figures requested by commissioners.