International Paper deal too sweet? - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

International Paper deal too sweet?

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (FOX13) -

Shelby County Commission Chairman Mike Ritz says city and county mayors have promised the moon to International Paper.

It's a deal that's not only unaffordable, but an embarrassment.

MORE: International Paper leaving Memphis?

International Paper says it's exploring its options, looking to expand or maybe move.

Poplar Avenue is home to about 2,000 high paying International Paper jobs. Officials say the company is considering bringing 100 new jobs here and building a new tower.

But Commissioner Ritz says the deal they want to expand here is too sweet.

"If that's what it takes to get them here, we can't afford it," he said.  "We just can't afford it."

Ritz says International Paper is asking for a 30-year tax abatement deal on all their existing properties, and would build one new tower on Poplar Avenue to house employees from a recently acquired company out of Austin, Texas.

Thirty years would be the biggest deal ever and typically existing properties don't get tax breaks.

But Ritz says both Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell have told International Paper they can get the deal done.

"I think frankly it goes to the fact that they both are very naive on this subject," Ritz said.  "They have no real private sector experience."

A fair deal would be a 15-year tax abatement on the new building, the commissioner said. Anything else would be setting an expensive precedent.

"What do we do tomorrow morning when the chairman of Federal Express asks us to do the same thing for all their buildings, and the chairman of AutoZone asks?  We can't afford this," Ritz said.

The 30-year deal would need approval by the state, county commission, and Memphis city council. Ritz says he'll call International Paper's bluff.

But not everyone is willing to take that chance.

"Fortune 500 companies are hard to come by,"  said Shelby County Commissioner Chris Thomas. "I'm willing to look at any and all opportunities to keep them here. Knowing there are 2,000 jobs, and in this economy to lose that, that would devastate this community."

But Commissioner Ritz says the county and city still have bills to pay, law enforcement, courts, and schools. Tax money is the only income.

"Somebody has to pay taxes here, if we give all the big property owners a free ride for 30 years," he said. "We don't have any money. It's pretty disgusting."

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