MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - This is big time stuff. International Paper is a huge corporation, and its headquarters are right here in little ole Memphis...for now. They might move to Mississippi unless the city of Memphis and Shelby County give them some deals. Enter Shelby County Commission Chairman Mike Ritz who admits, “I guess I’ve become a fly in the ointment on some of these give away programs.”
Ritz is spending the holiday weekend in Virginia Beach, but took a few minutes away from the surf and sand to talk about this. He says International Paper wants more PILOTS (Payments In Lieu Of Taxes). It means the company pays a much lower rate come tax time. “I’ve been the biggest advocate of the PILOT program on the County Commission,” he says. “But there are reasonable limits that can be put on this. I think the commission has put reasonable limits on the use of PILOTS. Fifteen years has been the maximum.”
According to Ritz, International Paper wanted PILOTS on its three office buildings on Poplar, and two airplanes. Airplanes aren’t eligible for the program here, so Ritz says both Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell offered IP thirty more years of reduced taxes under the PILOT program. He doesn’t like the idea, and intends to fight it. Ritz will fight it, knowing International Paper could leave. “That could happen,” he says, “and that would not be good for Memphis. However we can’t give away property taxes in Memphis or Shelby County to keep current businesses or recruit future companies.”
Both mayors have said keeping International Paper’s Headquarters in Memphis is extremely important. Ritz says he’s not backing down. So stand by, because what we have here is shaping up to be a shootout at the old County Commission corral.