The anti-Walmart sentiment was clear in St. Petersburg on Thursday, when a crowd of more than 35 residents packed the room for a public session on proposed tax breaks for a new Sam's Club being built on what they say should be designated a Brownfield.
At stake is $240,000 in tax breaks. Pocket change for parent company Wal-Mart, which makes more than $20,000 profit EVERY minute.
Representatives from LocalShops1 joined others from the Sierra Club, Keep Saint Petersburg Local, Awake Pinellas and dozens of concerned residents to let the city know they didn't want Wal-Mart getting the tax breaks.
The pitches varied, from those who doubted whether the land should, indeed, be classified a Brownfield to those who wondered why Walmart would lease land -- and start building on it! -- when officials had already determined it was contaminated. Some wondered aloud whether this was just another case of Walmart being greedy. Surely, losing $240,000 in tax savings wouldn't put a dent in the giant corporation's budget.
"You know you're hated," one resident told the Walmart reps. "Why not try to do the right thing for once?"
The Walmart lawyers were ready to tackle the crowd. They didn't bother to try to defend Walmart's reputation. They focused on repeating that the ordinance gives them the right to ask for the tax breaks. According to Walmart and city of St. Petersburg officials, they qualified -- and deserved -- the breaks.
The public outcry continued for almost two hours. Walmart lawyers wouldn't budge.
My take? No tax breaks. Walmart has a long pattern of building on land and then proclaiming it contaminated, and going for tax breaks. The problem is the land, if indeed contaminated, often gets just a "cover-up" job. So, Walmart gets the money but doesn't fix the problem. Although a new Sam's Club will mean 100+ jobs, these are all extremely low-paying and the next effect on the job front is negative because of all the jobs lost from the small businesses Sam's Club would potentially destroy.
The issue goes up to a vote in City Council, 9 a.m. June 7, at City Hall.
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