WORCESTER -- The Worcester NAACP has entered the debate about the city's proposed policy for TIFs -- so called tax increment finance deals given to companies to incentivize new development. The deals, which are often decades long tax breaks on new construction, have been routinely criticized by the Worcester Community-Labor Council (WCLC), a coalition made up of members of organized labor and community groups for what they give away.
The city already amended its draft proposal in response to the WCLC, the Telegram & Gazette reported last month. Among those changes was the push to mandate that any company receiving a tax break pay $15 per hour.
The city in response set a goal of $15 per hour or 125 percent above the state's minimum wage, whichever is greater, beginning with TIFs issued in 2018 and beyond, the Telegram reported.
Another change the city made had to do with new jobs created by TIFs. Companies under the amended draft will be required to make all new jobs available to Worcester residents first. They would also be required to set a goal that 10 percent of those hires be people of color, 5 percent be women and 15 percent be offered to low- or moderate-income individuals.
This change, according to a letter to the council from the Worcester NAACP, does not go far enough. "With over a third of Worcester's population being people of color and women being the majority of our population we found these goals to be unacceptable," the letter states.
The letter, signed by Leonard Cooper III, the group's vice president and economic development chairman, is addressed to the council ahead of Tuesday's meeting, at which the policy is expected to be voted on. The NAACP is supporting the WCLC's request that new hires should be made of 50 percent women, 33 percent people of color and 35 percent of low-income residents.
While the city has stated that the newly-created chief diversity officer would review the city's numbers and recommend changes at a future date, Cooper said the NACCP prefers the changes are made with Tuesday's vote. "The reality is that TIF or no TIF, these numbers should have been updated after the last census report," Cooper wrote. The recommendations extend to actual construction, too. The state's Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance currently requires that state jobs have a minimum of 6.9 percent of work hours completed by women and 15.3 percent completed by people of color. Both the NAACP Worcester and WCLC want similar minimums added to the city's TIF-related projects.
Among the policies language regarding hiring practices is that the contracts make "best efforts" to hire at least 50 percent of their workers from within Worcester. The NAACP wants that wording to be change to "required," Cooper wrote. That issue has been debated at past meetings of the Economic Development subcommittee. The city has argued that contractors often cannot find enough skilled labor from a Worcester-only pool to fill half of its workforce. With that, Cooper wrote: "We support that there be a waiver that the applicant can apply for if not able to reach the stated objectives."