By John Branston

In finance lingo it is called the value proposition. It is a sales pitch that says price isn’t everything when deciding “is it worth it” whether buying a stock, a house, a box of cereal, a meal or deciding where to live.

It won’t show up in the election results. It will show up in population loss or gain four years from now. Gain is good. But if more people vote with their feet than voted at the polls, then Memphis could be a bankrupt city of fewer than 500,000.

Beware of elected officials who say there are no easy solutions. Moving isn’t easy but people do it – maybe more than ever with work-from-home. If you think that is a California thing check out the office buildings at Poplar and Ridgeway.

Here is my take on the value proposition:

The Memphis tax, formerly known as the Midtown Tax, is the sadly predictable chance that your car will be broken into or your bike or lawn mower will be stolen every few years. That was in what looks like the good old days. Now it’s the chance of being a victim of a violent crime. The perception of crime locally and in national media is as important as the stats.

Other taxes. The sales tax is almost 10 percent. There is no state income tax for individuals. The Memphis property tax for homeowners is added to the Shelby County property tax to produce a combined rate of $6 and change per $100 of assessed valuation. Comparisons are tricky, but suburban city-plus-county property taxes in Germantown, Arlington, Collierville, etc. are roughly 80 cents to $1.60 lower.

Tax breaks. Nobody but Smart City blogger/founder Tom Jones keeps up with PILOTS but Memphis hands out more of them than any place in Tennessee. One example: Campbell Clinic recently sought a “retention PILOT” lest it move to Mississippi from the medical hub in East Memphis. Business is booming. Everyone plays a sport these days, men and women, old and young, soccer to pickleball. Joint replacements that used to be done to keep people mobile are now done to keep them in the game. It ain’t cheap.

Nonprofits: Not to be confused with funds for widows and orphans, nonprofits account for a big percentage of the land and buildings in Memphis. They do not pay property taxes. If you work for one, congratulations, it offsets your personal tax burden.

Amenities, including parks, golf courses, community centers and sports facilities. Overton Park, Shelby Farms and Tom Lee Park and others that get less attention are gems. But I have never heard anyone say, “you know, I would kind of like to go see the Tigers or Showboats play and pay $10 for a corn dog but unless they put another $300 million into it, the stadium just bums me out so much I am staying home to watch it on little old 64-inch TV.”

Schools, public, charter and private. If there is a path to college in your public schools you are saving more than $100,000 per child against the cost of private school.

The Basics. Potholes, water, predictable and regular trash and garbage pick-up. Enforcement of anti-neglect ordinance and restrictions on airbnbs. And it sounds prissy and maybe quaint to add it but litter is a problem in Memphis even on main drags like North Parkway and Poplar, and it is nobody’s fault but the litterers. Believe the evidence of your eyes.

Mountains, beaches and blue-water lakes can’t be man-made. A downtown river can be a plus but it helps if there is something on the other side and if the river is recreational enough for a stand-up paddleboard picture like Austin, Chattanooga, Nashville, Little Rock and Louisville.

Fresh horses. The old lions are retired or gone. There was a singular genius in Fred Smith, Jack Belz, Henry Turley, Pitt Hyde and Allen Morgan Jr. and you can’t just start a regional bank or brokerage firm or develop an island like you could 50 years ago. Where will we find such men (or women)? Ford is coming to West Tennessee but there’s that location to think about.

Bottom line: If you bought a house on a nice street in a nice neighborhood 30-40 years ago and kept it and improved it and raised children in it who went to public schools and maybe inherited some money then you won the life lottery. If you are half rich or rich and an empty nester or starting a family then you are possibly looking.

The mayor won’t matter much.


John Branston was a reporter and columnist in Memphis for 40 years 


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