Unicoi County should give PILOT another try

Johnson City Press • Oct 29, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Unicoi County commissioners gave a thumbs down Monday to a tax incentive plan to help create jobs in the county. Commissioners said they have questions that need to be answered about the proposed Economic Development Incentive Program before they can green light the plan.

We encourage commissioners to seek those answers and give this payment in lieu of taxes plan another look. With proper monitoring, a PILOT plan can be very helpful for economic development.

The proposal is modeled after a PILOT plan that officials in Washington County say has been successful in attracting new companies to the area. Washington County’s experience has also pointed to the need for stronger oversight of such tax incentive plans.

To receive the incentive, companies in Unicoi County would have to invest a minimum of $500,000, create a minimum of 10 new jobs paying at least 140 percent of minimum wage, be current on all existing taxes and show the incentive will be used in their new project or expansion.

For companies that meet those benchmarks, the program would provide an abatement of land taxes on any improvements the industry makes to its property, and a gradual increase from zero to 100 percent tax on those improvements over a period of up to 10 years.

During the same period, the company would continue to pay land taxes at the same rate that existed prior to the addition of value that will result from their project’s improvement to the property.

While any incentive offered outside of those guidelines would be brought to the County Commission for review, the purpose of the resolution before commissioners last week was to authorize the bond board to offer the incentive without having to convene the commission for approval.

That provision troubled some commissioners who wanted to know more about the oversight structure of the tax incentive program. They have a valid concern. Thankfully, commissioners will have a chance to get those questions answered at a workshop with leaders of the county’s Economic Development Board on Nov. 27.

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