A Mistake Was Made On The Choo Choo PILOT - And Response

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

In many governmental decisions, there are very valid arguments on both sides of an issue, creating shades of gray to the ones voting. If I thought there were any shades of gray on the Choo Choo tax break, I would not be writing this letter. However, there are no shades of gray with this one. It is clearly black and white. 

PILOTS or tax breaks are necessary and make sense in isolated select circumstances, but must be well thought out, planned, meticulously overseen and very limited to ensure the taxpayer is benefiting the most and to also insure these tax breaks don't get out of control. Every PILOT given is less tax dollars collected, which equates to not having enough money to do certain projects across all of Hamilton County. These projects then get prioritized and move up and down on the priority list based on immediate need. In all cases, collecting less tax dollars financially hurts the poor and the people on fixed incomes the most.  

For example, giving a PILOT, thus collecting less tax dollars, might create a situation where a pot hole is not repaired timely, as it was moved down on a priority list. A poor or fixed income person hits the pot hole, damages their car and is forced to pay for the repair that the PILOT indirectly created. The poor person doesn’t have the discretionary money readily available for the repair that a person with more means may have and they end up making severe sacrifices to repair their car. I can cite many more numerous different examples of these types of things across Chattanooga, but hopefully you get my drift. Even worse, if there is not enough money to cover the high priority projects, the taxes we pay will be increased either directly with a tax increase or indirectly through increased property appraisals or both. Again, financially hurting the poor and fixed income families the most.  

Therefore, giving PILOTS must be very very carefully thought out and taken very seriously, to ensure that the most financially vulnerable are not being taken advantage of. Examples of where PILOTS make sense are 1)  A significant number of jobs will be created with the PILOT 2) A location where very old structures, in strategic parts of the city, are too cost prohibitive for any developer to be financially successful renovating or rebuilding them. A PILOT to help defray the cost may be a good idea 3) Situations that I am unaware of at this time that would make a huge difference to our community. 

In my opinion, the Choo Choo PILOT that was passed by the city and county was very irresponsible by all that voted yes and it stinks to high heaven. I am incensed by it, as should all taxpayers in Hamilton County. Here is why. 

The Choo Choo renovation was going to occur whether they received a PILOT or not. 

The cost of renovation does not prevent the project from being financially successful. 

The PILOT only increases the developers bottom line, at the expense of the poor and those on fixed income. 

No additional jobs are created because of this project. As a matter of fact, this project decreases the number of jobs, as there are not near the number of jobs needed to run an apartment complex as a hotel. 

There are locations within a mile or two of the Choo Choo that are way more truly deserving of a PILOT. 

Well, why did the Choo Choo PILOT pass so easily in the city and 6-3 in the county? It seems obvious to me. An ex mayor was the developer and he had many friends who were on the city and county voting boards. These people placed friendship ahead of their constituencies who entrusted them with their vote. If the developer had not been an ex mayor, I seriously doubt it would have passed. I have spoken with numerous business men and women, old, young, and in-between across Hamilton County and no one was in favor of this. I have yet to have one person, including commissioners who voted yes, tell me why it was so important that the Choo Choo receive this PILOT.  

It breaks my heart to see the poor, veterans, and seniors hurt by a project that truly doesn’t need a tax break. I have chosen to stand up for the little guy, as most of the elected officials seem to value friendships more than doing what is right by their constituents. They voted for the individual behind the project, rather than the merits of the project itself. I’m particularly disappointed in Commissioners Mackey and Beck, as these men represent two of the poorest districts in Hamilton County. If both vote no, it stops the PILOT.  Many days before the vote, I communicated with both commissioners about protecting their constituencies and how a yes vote financially hurts the people they represent the most. Amazingly, both  of them voted yes and chose to throw their constituencies under the bus. And for the record, I gave $500 to Commissioner Mackey’s re-election campaign.  

This is not about the ex mayor. This is about right and wrong. And asking, is this project deserving of a tax break? Then weighing the necessity and greater good of this project verses those that get hurt the most by granting it. Pure and simple, this project does not do anything extraordinaire for Hamilton County to warrant a tax break. There are a number of possible projects within a few miles of the Choo Choo that are very deserving of a PILOT and really would significantly enhance the downtown area. If the ex mayor’s company were involved with any of those, I’m sure there would not be this public outcry because the project would truly warrant the associated tax break.

People make mistakes. There was a mistake made here, more than likely, starting with River City and its selection of the location of this PILOT. Honorable and responsible people and companies take ownership of mistakes and show who they really are by correcting them.  Choo Choo and/or River City can do the right thing and reject this PILOT or they can choose to pad their bottom line and financially hurt the little guy in the process.   

A very concerned lifetime resident of Hamilton County, 
Dr. Keith Dressler 

* * * 

Thank you, Dr. Dressler, for your letter concerning the Choo Choo PILOT; you hit the mark with your comments and concerns.  With further investigation you will find that the "residential project" for the Choo Choo has been in the works for quite some time, definitely longer than the Downtown Housing PILOT program reenactment.  I concur that the project would have proceeded whether or not a PILOT agreement had been granted.   

Your letter should be a "wake up" call to the taxpayers of Hamilton County.  We taxpayers should not stand for the "good ole boy" politics of the past.  We should all voice our outrage to our elected officials as you have.  We should all stand for those that are underserved in our community.   

I, for one, would like to see an online petition effort requesting/demanding the Choo Choo PILOT not be implemented.  I'm sure there would be an overwhelming amount of signatures to support the request.  It would not be a message against the Choo Choo, it would be a message that the taxpayers of Chattanooga not only expect, but demand better representation from their elected leaders - those who should be genuine stewards of our tax dollars.  To quote Helen Burns Sharp - "who's looking out for the taxpayer?" 

Alex McGee

Take Me Out To The Ballgame

Marie Mott's Plan For Small Business And Skilled Trades In District 8

Right To Their Own Body? - And Response

Let’s see if I have this right. Taxpayers are to foot the bill to the tune of $80 million for a new baseball stadium that will be designed to hold 6,000 people. We must not plan on a great deal ... (click for more)

District 8 isn’t on the same playing field as the rest of Chattanooga. We’ve been left behind and overlooked for millions in support and economic investment. Everyone deserves access to career ... (click for more)

So the two Dems running for governor actually believe "women should have the right to their own body." Well then I assume this means that prostitution should be legalized? How about the ... (click for more)


Take Me Out To The Ballgame

Let’s see if I have this right. Taxpayers are to foot the bill to the tune of $80 million for a new baseball stadium that will be designed to hold 6,000 people. We must not plan on a great deal of attendance. Research reveals that during pre-pandemic in 2019, the average attendance was 3,948. Furthermore, under the current proposal if you attend a game, you must pay to park. So, ... (click for more)

Marie Mott's Plan For Small Business And Skilled Trades In District 8

District 8 isn’t on the same playing field as the rest of Chattanooga. We’ve been left behind and overlooked for millions in support and economic investment. Everyone deserves access to career paths that grow wealth, support our community and protect our future. Here’s how we’re going to get it done: • Connect residents to future-ready job training. By 2025, millennials ... (click for more)

Breaking News

EPA Awarding Brownfield Grant At Site Of Planned Lookouts Stadium

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Deputy Administrator Janet McCabe on Wednesday is set to present the city of Chattanooga with Brownfield program cleanup and assessment grants at the site of a planned new $79.5 million stadium to be used by the Lookouts. The press conference will be at the U.S. Pipe/Wheland site. The grant is "to help spur economic revitalization ... (click for more)

$79.5 Million Stadium Touted As Catalyst For Major Project At Long-Blighted Wheland/U.S. Pipe Site; Lookouts To Pay $1 Million Annually To Lease "Community" Stadium

More than 100 acres of the long-neglected U.S. Pipe and Wheland Foundry sites "will begin transforming into a world-class live-work-play district that will generate more than $40 million for schools," Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger and Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly announced at a press conference at the site on Thursday. Flanked by nationally renowned master developer Jim ... (click for more)


First Place Barons Beat Chattanooga Again

We all know that good pitching, timely hitting and solid defense gives any baseball team on any level a good chance of winning, but when any of the three falter, those odds drop way down. Facing the Birmingham Barons for the fourth straight day at AT&T Field Friday night, the Chattanooga Lookouts were lacking in two of the three, so it’s not a real surprise that the guys ... (click for more)

Lady Red Wolves Win 3-2 Over Visiting Southern Soccer Academy

The Chattanooga Lady Red Wolves earned a 3-2 home win Friday night against Southern Soccer Academy. The win puts the Lady Red Wolves on top of the South Central standings with one regular season game left. In Friday's game, Hollie Massey opened the scoring in the 3rd minute to give the Lady Red Wolves an early 1-0 lead. SSA answered in the 22nd minute. In the 39th minute, MacKenzie ... (click for more)