Thursday, January 08, 2009

For Sale: Coliseum And Common Sense

It’s hard for us to fathom, but a Shelby County commissioner – whose constituents are Memphians - is proposing that county government should not get out of the way and allow Memphis City Hall to redevelop the Fairgrounds until it wrings money from city government.

Of course, money from city government only comes from city taxpayers, so in effect, for Memphians, it’s like moving money from their city taxpayer pocket to their county taxpayer pocket and comes at a time when Shelby County’s overriding interest these days should be to give Memphians a fairer tax burden.

This issue could have been the poster child for fairness for city taxpayers. After all, the suggestion is for Shelby County Government to waive any rights to Mid-South Coliseum and Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Now, county government owns only 40% of the Coliseum and in addition, there’s a small sliver of land under the stadium that belongs to county government.


Because we respect Steve Mulroy, we were especially baffled that this response came from him after Commissioner Sidney Chism called for Shelby County Government to deed over its minority interests at the Fairgrounds, clearing the way for Memphis to proceed with its plan for redevelopment of the site.

It’s all so schizophrenic, like so many decisions reached by local government, and it speaks again for the need for consolidation of city and county governments. It seems like just this once, the emphasis should be on doing what’s fair, rather than thinking that Memphians – who are the majority of county taxpayers – should now pay their county halves money to allow their city halves to move ahead with the Fairgrounds project.

The Shelby County Board of Commissioners previously rejected a proposal to give up its ownership of these two properties along with The Pyramid for $5 million. In those discussions, there was the general sentiment that the payment would be for the latest former arena and that the older former arena would be lagniappe in the deal.

We Just Don’t Understand

It’s almost as if the suggestion that the city should pay for the Coliseum and the sliver of land is based on the county’s perceived “nuisance value.”

Let’s say it one more time. When the Coliseum was built, Memphis taxpayers paid 100% of the city’s 60% costs, and then paid 75% of the county’s 40%. If our math is right, that means that Memphians paid for 90% of the cost of the Coliseum in the first place.

It sounds like to us that if Memphis taxpayers are owed anything, it’s an apology for being taxed twice for the same facility and they deserve a credit from Shelby County Government for overpayment.

Taxing Hotel Stays

Meanwhile, Commissioner Mulroy is pushing a proposal to sue on-line travel companies for failure to accurately pay the county’s 5% hotel-motel tax. With one of the highest motel-motel tax rates in the U.S., we’re sympathetic with visitors who choke when told they need to cough up 16% in taxes on a night’s room, but there’s no reason that Memphians should be subsidizing big companies like Travelocity and Expedia to the tune of about $2 million, the back-of-the-envelope estimate by Commissioner Mulroy. (We resist the urge to point out that there are a couple of beneficiaries of county tax freezes that are waived more than that amount.)

While he’s at it, we hope that Commissioner Mulroy will look into the collection of the hotel-motel taxes on the ground in Shelby County. The last time we checked, the taxes paid by local hotels and motels are produced by a system of self-reporting companies. The checks mailed to the county clerk’s office are what the businesses say they owe, and perhaps, it’s time to get really serious about auditing and collecting the so-called “bed tax” in our county to make sure that all of it is being collected.

With so much hanging in the balance – Memphis Cook Convention Center, the international marketing programs of Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau and a complicated swap of Tourism Development Zone funds so that FedEx Forum could, well, come to think of it, it’s more than you want to know.

Here’s the thing: we need to make sure that every cent of hotel-motel tax is collected.


Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

It seems a lot of county commissioners and city counselors in their eagerness to get money resort to extortion from the citizens, MLGW does it when the city doesn't pay their bills, the county does it whenever they ant over anything they want, the city does it by being a deadbeat tenant and stuffing offices with warm bodies that take equipment out of pyramids unchecked among MANY other things.
This IS "Extortionville" haven't you noticed that the criminal mindset comes from the top down?

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