Helen Burns Sharp Questions Tax Breaks For 2 Businesses

Friday, November 22, 2013 - by Hollie Webb

As the Industrial Development Board of Chattanooga passed resolutions that offered tax incentives to several incoming companies in its Friday meeting, Helen Burns Sharp questioned how aware the public is of these practices.

Opening her presentation, she said that former President John F. Kennedy had spoken in Chattanooga about this very subject. Years before he was a presidential candidate, he had addressed the Chattanooga Rotary Club. There he called for an end to the state of Tennessee's practice of issuing revenue bonds to new industries. Revenue bonds are tax exempt and may be issued to finance public works. 

In the meeting, the board voted to give these property tax breaks to Woodbridge Chattanooga Formed Plastics and WNA American Plastics. However, Ms. Sharp questioned if giving these tax breaks was not "more like a reward than an inducement." She pointed out that the problem was not "Woodbridge-specific." 

First, she asked the board members if this was really necessary to bring in new companies. It had previously been said that the process of selecting a site for development was competitive; Chattanooga was one of several options for each company. However, it was not stated if the other potential locations had offered similar tax incentives.

She next asked the board, "Are these the kind of jobs Chattanooga wants to incentivise?" Each company will bring over 50 new full-time jobs to the area, with average wages around $16 per hour. Ms. Sharp pointed out that a non-industrial company like Costco would also create jobs and offer average wages closer to $22 per hour. 

She said, "I think we have some fundamental transparency issues." She told the board it was difficult to find information about their meetings and that other agencies like the Chamber of Commerce did not even open their meetings to the public. She said, "The public needs someone who's going to discuss in a public forum why (the resolutions) are a good idea, and why they are good for the city."

Several board members told Ms. Sharp they were sympathetic to her concerns and would try to give the public more information about the dates and times of future meetings. 

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