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Washington — Despite pressure from Congress, the IRS still plans to move 90 jobs to Tennessee from Detroit next year, saying it hasn’t found a suitable alternative location in Michigan.

The move prompted a letter from U.S. Sens. Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow along with U.S. Reps. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, and Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak, to the IRS and the General Services Administration raising concerns about the move.

“It is our understanding that the Internal Revenue Service and General Services Administration have not yet been able to identify light-industrial warehouse space in the Detroit area that meets all of the specifications being used to determine whether space is suitable for housing these jobs, which primarily involve printing and mailing correspondence to taxpayers across the country. As you are no doubt aware, there are many available spaces in Detroit — and we believe it should be possible to find a location that meets the criteria necessary to house these employees and the necessary equipment associated with their jobs,” the letter read.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan and Peters met with the IRS Commissioner John Koskinen earlier this month in Washington urging him to cancel the move of jobs from Detroit’s Patrick McNamara building in downtown to Memphis.

The IRS Detroit location is a correspondence production services office used mainly for printing and mailing correspondence to taxpayers, which requires large printing equipment and loading docks. The IRS decided to move after it said the current space can no longer accommodate needs. It is housed within the Detroit data, or computer, center that the IRS said in 2013 it planned to close.

The current facility has more than 73,000 square feet including 29,000 for printing and insertion and nearly 30,000 for warehouse and loading docks, according to government documents obtained by The Detroit News. Detroit has hundreds of vacant or abandoned industrial buildings that congressional supporters argue should be considered before the IRS shifts the work to Tennessee.

The Democrats says the IRS needs to do more before uprooting many workers.

“We are deeply worried that this proposal would take good, middle-class jobs from employees who have families and long-standing ties in the Detroit area without first exhausting all the options for moving these jobs to another location in the Detroit region,” they wrote in a letter obtained by The Detroit News.

The move would force workers to either quit or move 750 miles away.

The IRS told the union representing most of the employees earlier this year they planned to move the employees to the IRS Memphis Computing Center around November or December 2016. “Sufficient space exists in the Memphis site to accommodate all existing Detroit (IRS printing) employees,” the IRS said in a letter to the National Treasury Employees Union.

“At the same time, this proposed move would cost Detroit dozens of good middle-class jobs at a time when so many of us are deeply invested in the city's recovery,” they wrote.

Most of the Michigan congressional delegation discussed the issue on Friday at a meeting and the Detroit Economic Growth Commission is holding a conference call to discuss the issue with Michigan Democrats in Congress Tuesday.

Congressional aides say Detroit officials identified 12 to 16 different potential building sites for the center – but just one building may meet the detailed list of criteria that the IRS required. The IRS hasn’t responded yet to the proposed alternatives.

Koskinen has agreed to look at alternative spots in Metro Detroit before moving ahead with the Memphis move, Peters said earlier this month. An IRS spokesman didn’t immediately comment on the letter.

The IRS said in 2013 it would consolidate computing centers in response to an audit from the Treasury Department’s inspector general for tax administration.

The audit said closing the Detroit data facility will save $15 million.

dshepardson@detroitnews.com

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