In a unanimous voice vote Monday, the commission adopted a tax-incentive package modeled on a similar payment-in-lieu-of-taxes program that has been successfully used by the Johnson City Industrial Development Board to recruit more than 200 jobs and more than $2 million in investment.
The vote followed an hour-long work session in which Tyler Engle, director of the Joint Economic Development Board of Unicoi County, and Alisha Summers, vice president of business development for the Northeast Tennessee Regional Economic Partnership of Carter, Unicoi and Washington counties, made the case for the new industrial recruiting tool.
The commissioners, who requested the work session after rejecting the development officials’ initial request for its authorization in October, continued to express some hesitancy on Monday.
Commissioner Gene Wilson, who opposed the plan in October and again during Monday’s work session, said his concern was that neither of the other counties in the regional development partnership had adopted a similar incentive program.
Summers said while there has been talk of a similar incentive package in Washington County, there has not been a need because of a current marketing focus on that county’s industrial park.
Summers emphasized the success the Johnson City Industrial Board has had with the program, including two PILOT projects for expansion of existing industries that needed the incentives to stay in Johnson City.
Engle told the commission the program was a time-saving measure that could trim months off recruitment negotiations with industries who meet the program’s mandatory criteria.
The five-year tax-incentive offer is only available to companies that invest a minimum of $500,000 and create a minimum of 10 new jobs paying at least 140 percent of minimum wage.
For companies that meet the criteria, the program will provide abatement of taxes on any improvements the industry makes to a property, and a gradual increase from zero to 100 percent tax on those improvements over a period of five years, which the industry continuing to pay taxes at the same rate that existed prior to its improvement of the property.
Any criteria or incentive outside of those perimeters will be brought to the County Commission for review and approval, Engle said.
Commissioner Ken Garland voiced concern during the work session that the county previously invested in a land purchase for industrial development that never materialized.
Engle and Lee Brown, chairman of Unicoi County economic development board, emphasized the incentive program does not require any financial investment by the county.
Summers told commissioners any PILOT projects secured through the program will be reviewed annually and industries that fail to meet the terms will be required to make reparations.
In the full commission meeting that followed the work session, Commissioner Loren Thomas made a motion to approve a resolution and a memorandum of understanding authorizing the incentive program.
Commissioner Todd Wilcox seconded the motion and the commission approved the measure on a voice vote with none opposed.
In other business, First Judicial District Circuit Court Judge Eddie Lauderback informed the commission that the state has awarded the county $54,635 for several specified security upgrades.
Lauderback said while the grant award is not yet final, preliminary information presented to the state judiciary committee on courthouse security is that Unicoi County will receive $14,885 for upgrades of the bench alarm system to connect courtrooms directly to the 911 dispatchers.
Unicoi County Emergency Management Director Ed Herndon said the bench alarm system includes similar alarms in all courthouse offices.
Lauderback said the grant will also include $35,000 for new X-ray and handheld metal detecting equipment and $4,000 for a barrier between the courthouse stairway and second level foyer that has been identified as susceptible to a security breach.
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