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County Commissioners postpone John Sevier Center vote

Robert Houk • Jan 28, 2019 at 9:08 PM

A decision on a $4.6 million tax increment financing plan for the Johnson City Development Authority’s purchase of the John Sevier Center has been delayed by the Washington County Commission for yet another month.

Commission Chairman Greg Matherly told his colleagues Monday that the JCDA had requested the item to be postponed until the board’s next meeting in February.

The JCDA voted in September to buy the 10-story low-income-housing building and to bring the units up to acceptable conditions, help transition residents to new housing facilities elsewhere in the city and then sell the center to a commercial developer.

Action on a resolution approving a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement with Johnson City developer Mitch Cox for a vacant warehouse in Gray was also removed from Monday’s agenda. Matherly told commissioners no new date has been set to hear the proposed PILOT.

Cox has told commissioners he plans to purchase a 90,000-square-foot building with an appraised value of $2,056,100 on 16 acres at 149 Old Gray Station Road. He plans to redevelop half the space as a distribution warehouse for Ashley Furniture, with the remaining square footage renovated for other retail clients.

Commissioners pulled resolutions on the PILOT and TIF projects from their agenda in December after Commissioner Robbie Tester noted supporting documents for the items had been added to the agenda just hours before the monthly meeting.

At Monday’s meeting, Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy asked Mitch Miller, the CEO of the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership, to provide commissioners with background information on the role TIFs and PILOTs play in the county’s economic development strategy.

Miller said NETREP was created to concentrate on the primary areas of “job growth and to increase the county’s tax base.” He said TIFs and PILOTs are essential to meeting those goals.

“TIFs have been used to help blighted areas, and increase infrastructure for economic development,” he said.

Alicia Summers, NETREP’s VP for industrial development, told commissioners the PILOT process was created by the state General Assembly.

“They are fairly common across the state to win a deal, and to close a deal,” Summers said.

She said each PILOT the county has negotiated “has met or exceeded” its economic development goals.

They include:

• NN Inc., with a $9 million capital investment for 200 new jobs.

• Dentsply Sirona, with a $16.6 million for a projected 25 new jobs.

• Silverdale Partners, with a $6,6 million capital investment for a projected 102 new jobs.

• Mullican Flooring, with a $7.5 million capital investment for a projected 200 new jobs.

• LPI Inc., with a $7 million capital investment for a projected 290 new jobs.

• Koyo, with 100 projected new jobs.

• Nakatetsu, with 58 projected new jobs.

Commissioner Kent Harris said he was skeptical that NN Inc., Dentsply and others have lived up to all their obligations under the PILOTs. Commissioner Danny Edens agreed, telling Summers a “lot of information” was being presented to the commission on the PILOT agreements, but not a lot of “answers to our questions.”

Tester said he and his colleagues needed more “transparency” in the process. He suggested a workshop be held so that commissioners and their constituents could better understand the PILOTs.

“The public doesn’t know what the terms of these agreements are,” he said.

Commissioner Jim Wheeler said he would like to know what tax incentives were given and where those companies stand in meeting their goals.

“Maybe the entire commission needs a workshop,” Matherly said.

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