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Here Are Some Of The Most Outrageous Perks Cities Offered Amazon

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Did Amazon successfully trick cities and states around the country into a bidding war that gave it leverage to negotiate with the two cities ― New York City and Arlington, Virginia ― it planned to launch in all along?

The company will probably never say, but the range of perks that so many places offered hints at just how much control Amazon, a company headed by the richest man in the world, wielded in this year-long game. 

Not all governments have released the details of their bids, but those that have showed just how much they were willing to put on the line. Aside from the billions in tax incentives most locales offered, here’s a look at five of the most outrageous things governments brought to the table ― often at the expense of taxpayers. 

Free Pets, Hotel Rooms, Aquarium Memberships And More

Dallas is perhaps the best instance of a city’s willingness to sweeten the deal with extravagant perks, offering up taxpayer dollars to provide free things to Amazon employees. 

That offer included free one-year memberships to the Dallas Zoo, Dallas Children’s Aquarium, Dallas Arboretum, Texas Discovery Gardens and the Trinity River Audubon Center for any employee hired between 2019 and 2021, and waived pet adoption fees at the Dallas Animal Services adoption center for Amazon employees until 2022. 

One of the pricier perks offered was an estimated $1.5 million in free rides on “shuttles, pedicabs, courtesy carts, or other quick transit solutions” to help HQ2 employees get around while the city improves its transit system. 

Additionally, Dallas offered the company 2,000 free nights at a city-owned hotel and 100 free days of event space. 

Renaming Public Property For Amazon

The state of Georgia said Amazon would have the opportunity to rename streets around a future campus in Atlanta.

Suggestions included Amazon Lane, Alexa Way, Prime Place and Kindle Rd. 

“Simply put, Atlanta has a long history of Amazon love,” the state said in its attempt to woo the company.

It also promised to explore the possibility of turning one of Atlanta’s MARTA transit cars into a vehicle for transporting Amazon products around the metropolitan area. 

Notice If The Media Is Looking Into Amazon

It wasn’t just the helicopter landing pad that helped Virginia win over a slice of the new Amazon headquarters. As part of its offer, the state will notify the company within two days of receiving any Freedom of Information Act requests about Amazon “to allow the Company to seek a protective order or other appropriate remedy.”

FOIA requests are often filed by members of the media to obtain previously unreleased information or documents controlled by the U.S. government. For example, it was through a FOIA request that The Daily Beast revealed last month that Amazon had met with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to pitch the agency on its facial recognition surveillance technology.

A Say In How Taxes Would Be Spent

Fresno, California, offered Amazon the chance to be the “ultimate corporate citizen,” as Fresno Mayor Lee Brand described it to KQED, by letting Amazon have joint say with the city in how the taxes the company paid would be spent. 

The deal would have established a so-called Amazon Community Fund for Amazon’s tax money to be managed by five people: two elected officials, one community representative and two Amazon appointees.

“I’ve never seen a proposal to give a company formal control,” Greg LeRoy, executive director of the economic development nonprofit Good Jobs First, told KQED. “That’s really off the charts.”

A ‘Blank Check’ For Transit Projects

While many bids include promises to make transit easier for HQ2 employees, Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn took things a step further in the state’s bid.

“Our statement for HQ2 is we’ll provide whatever is necessary to Amazon when they need it,” he told state senators during a hearing on his department’s budget. “For all practical purposes, it’s a blank check.”

That amount, he continued, “could be more or could be less” than the $2 billion in unspecified transportation upgrades already laid out in the state’s formal bid. 

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Ontario’s new automated speed enforcement explained

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(NC) To wage the war against speeding, many municipalities across Ontario have turned to automated speed enforcement. Most recently introduced in Toronto, speed cameras are a high-tech solution to reduce speeding and are considered one of the most effective ways to create safer roads and save lives.  

Recognizing police officers cannot catch all speeders, these cameras fill the gap, providing monitoring in specific locations around the clock. When a car’s speed is even one kilometre over the posted amount, it will take a picture of the offending vehicle’s license plate, using the captured photo as indisputable evidence. A ticket is then served to the vehicle’s owner, regardless of who was driving. 

With a focus on high-risk areas, Ontario’s automated speed enforcement cameras are located in two specific municipal areas: school and community safety zones. School zones are designated streets close to a school, featuring reduced speed limits as dictated by local bylaws. Community safety zones are high-risk corridors and intersections, subject to increased fines and penalties.  

While the Ontario Highway Traffic Act outlines the use of automated speed enforcement, municipalities can decide when and where to use cameras to curb speeding. The act does dictate financial penalties for speed violations captured with cameras, which vary depending on the number of kilometres caught over the speed limit.  

Speed enforcement is not new, but part of a broader, integrated road safety strategy that includes infrastructure improvements, awareness campaigns and new uses of technology. City officials hope for a halo effect, inspiring better driving behaviour across entire communities, not only in areas with cameras. A controversial topic, some critics take exception to speed cameras, labelling them as sneaky cash grabs for municipalities. Governments think the opposite. 

Safety advocate and auto insurance provider Onlia is hopeful that the cameras will provide drivers with a reminder to slow down, especially in high-risk areas like school and community safety zones.  

For those who obey the speed limit, automated speed enforcement shouldn’t change anything about your driving style, says Alex Kelly, Safety Ambassador at OnliaDrivers have fair warning as they approach areas with speed cameras, as mandatory signs provide reasonable notice of upcoming automated speed enforcement. Regardless of warnings, the best speed is the posted speed. 

You can start to understand your speeding style by downloading the insurance provider’s new safe driving app that coaches and rewards for you for safe driving habits.

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Online banking: How to protect yourself from fraud

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(NC) Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, a growing number of consumers are regularly using mobile and online banking to paybill payments, transfer money and make purchases.

Although these tools can give you easy access to your personal finances on demand, there are also some risks involved. For instance, your banking information—such as your debit or credit card number, user name, or personal identification number (PIN)—could be stolen. If criminals have access to your online banking information, they can steal your money, which is why it’s so important to be  vigilant when you bank online.

Follow these tips to help protect your personal and banking information:

  • For your online bank accounts, use a strong password that can’t be easily guessed, and never share your user name or password with anyone.
  • Check your accounts regularly to make sure there are no transactions you didn’t make or authorize.
  • When making online purchases, never authorize a website to save your credit card information, password or other personal information. Giving websites this permission will save you some time the next time you access the site, but it poses a real threat if a hacker manages to access your information.

Most financial institutions have policies to protect you from transactions that you didn’t make.

However, you are responsible for protecting your online and mobile banking information. If you give your details to anyone—including your spouse or partner, a family member or a friend—your financial institution may hold you responsible for any unauthorized transactions in your account, and even strip you of protection from unauthorized transactions in the future.

If you suspect your information may have been compromised, change your passwords immediately, and check your account and credit card statements for anomalies and report any suspicious transactions to your financial institution.

The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada has created resources to help you protect your online banking information.

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Payday loans: Not the best way to borrow money

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(NC) Payday loans are a very expensive way to borrow money. Even if you’re struggling financially, think twice—and crunch the numbers—before getting this type of loan.

Depending on the rules in your province, payday lenders can charge fees of $15 to $25 per $100 that you borrow.

As an example, let’s say you borrow $300 for home repairs. The payday lender charges you $51 in fees, or $17 for every $100 borrowed. Your loan balance is therefore $351, which amounts to an interest rate of 442 per cent.

There can be serious consequences if you don’t repay your loan by the due date. These may include the following:

  • The payday lender may charge you a fee if there isn’t enough money in your account.
  • Your financial institution may also charge you a fee if there isn’t enough money in your account.
  • The total amount that you owe, including the fees, continues to increase.

There are better options out there

Payday loans should be your last resort to borrow money. Consider cheaper ways of borrowing money, such as:

  • Cashing in vacation days or asking for a pay advance from your employer.
  • Getting a line of credit, a cash advance on a credit card or a personal loan from your financial institution.
  • Getting a loan from family or friends.

Before getting a payday loan and to avoid getting stuck in a debt trap, consider other, less expensive ways to borrow money.

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