Some of you are probably going to think I’m going to blame Irondale’s financial challenges on its elected officials.
I am not.
I’m not sure there’s a human being alive who could find a painless way for Irondale or many of our other municipalities to avoid financial challenges.
Irondale is a tiny town in Jefferson County–the largest county in Alabama. Irondale’s population of 12,000 is just 1.8% of Jefferson County. Its financial challenges are shared by many Jefferson County cities–so we all need to pay attention!
Because Irondale has limited options when pressured to maintain revenues–it’s forced to punish itself or one of its neighbors.
And then there’s that head scratching decision Irondale made last month…
Irondale’s is often the ‘screw-er’ or the ‘screw-ee’
Irondale has a history of aggressively attempting to steal businesses or institutions from neighboring cities. Sometimes that works and sometimes it backfires.
Tom Williams, a powerhouse car dealership, was located in Birmingham’s midtown. In 2004 Irondale stole the dealership from Birmingham by incentivizing Tom Williams dealerships to move to the Grants Mill Automotive Mall in Irondale. That really stung Birmingham.
Birmingham struck back
In 2006—two years later–the City of Birmingham successfully hit back by offering $11 million in incentives to Walmart to move from Irondale to Eastwood Mall in Birmingham. At that time, Walmart was generating $1 million in tax revenues for Irondale. Birmingham also tried to pilfer Sam’s, but was unsuccessful.
Irondale’s next attack on Birmingham was a disaster
The following year, Irondale negotiated an agreement with Trinity Hospital (originally Baptist Medical Center Montclair) to build a $315.8 million facility on a site off I-459 at Grants Mill Road. The City of Irondale purchased the 154 acres for $6.7 million in May 2007 to lease back to Trinity.
But the City of Birmingham counter-punched.
Birmingham stopped Trinity’s move to Irondale by offering a $55 million incentive package to renovate the unfinished HealthSouth Hospital on Highway 280 within Birmingham city limits. Irondale was left with a broken contract and major cash outlays. Attorneys for Birmingham and Irondale had to grind out a settlement.
Irondale then went after Hoover
Last year Irondale successfully offered a $13 million incentive package to Nick Saban’s Mercedes-Benz Dealership to leave Hoover for Irondale. The dealership opened in February with great fanfare–and Hoover has lost the tax revenue.
Irondale received a terrible blow
But then Irondale was caught off guard when Sam’s Club announced in February that it was permanently closing its Irondale store.
Sam’s Club was Irondale’s largest sales tax generator and the loss of cash flow was going to be devastating.
The City of Irondale was now projecting a deficit of $1.6 million for 2018 and $2.1 million in 2019.
Irondale citizens voted against property tax increase
Irondale was clearly desperate to restore revenues.
The City Council quickly asked Irondale citizens to increase property taxes—but the tax increase was defeated.
Irondale Mayor Charles Moore told al.com, “We’re going to have to look at the big picture now and say that the slight majority of the residents decided that they did not want to invest in the city and the services that we have. And we’re going to have to make tough decisions going forward.”
Irondale City Council passes unpopular occupational tax
So despite a public outcry, the Irondale City Council voted to implement an occupational tax.
Several Irondale business owners spoke out against the occupational tax saying the 1 percent tax would be felt by their employees.
Tim Le Roy, chief executive officer of Peak Season, an outdoor furniture manufacturer, complained that “many employees live paycheck to paycheck, and they will notice a 1 percent decrease in their take-home pay.”
Irondale head scratcher
Because of the newly implemented occupational tax Irondale finally had at least some of the revenue it needed to stay solvent, but then it did something that many people found perplexing.
The Irondale City Council approved tax abatements to assist Motion Industries with expansion.
Motion Industries is one of our region’s largest companies–$5 billion in sales and 600 employees at its Irondale location. Irondale is lucky to have them.
But why offer incentives to Motion Industries?
What about all the Irondale small companies and their employees who just took a hit on their pay checks? Is it fair that financial incentives are not offered to small employers and their employees who also might want to expand their businesses?
It’s great that Motion Industries wants to grow—but should tax payers, who just got slapped with a tax increase, be required to help fund that growth?
As I stated at the beginning of this piece, I’m not blaming Irondale’s City Council–it has an obligation to keep the city solvent.
And I’m not blaming Motion Industries. Motion has a responsibility to its shareholders to maximize profits. If Motion can convince a government entity to give it money, then it would be foolish not to.
Cities must begin to collaborate
Neither Irondale— nor any city in Jefferson County—is going to prosper and grow by stealing businesses from its neighbors, raising taxes, and going it alone.
It’s time to ask our mayors to work together for common solutions.
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David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).
Invite David to speak to your group about a more prosperous Birmingham. firstname.lastname@example.org