Keep the dog away from the chickens

Published 12:43 am Wednesday, June 8, 2011

To the Editor:

In 2002, the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners allowed the Economic Development Commission to lead them into an extended program of real estate acquisition and development with no set strategy and no defined budget. Nobody ever asked: “Where is this going? How much will it cost?” Taxpayers are now mired in $6,000,000 worth of undeveloped and/or vacant property during the worst real estate collapse since the Great Depression.

All in all, it has been a poorly defined plan, terribly executed. It has been an awkward and amateur effort.

It began in 2002 with a $1,100,000 land purchase to the west of Washington. Then, as real estate prices rose and the market became frothy and overvalued, the Economic Development Commission joined in the frenzy and brought the taxpayers along for the ride. In 2006, EDC broke ground on the $2,400,000 Quick Start Building II at the Washington Industrial Park and then followed up with a $2,000,000 purchase of the farmland intended for the Chocowinity Industrial Park project. Both properties are still idle and vacant.

The EDC and the county commissioners literally “bet the farm” at the very top of a historic real estate bubble. They bet our farm: a farm for which we had paid cash. Cash we could sorely use today.

We are told over and over that the Chocowinity property is the best commercial site in the county. It has direct access to Route 17 as well as to the railroad and it has low cost electric utility rates. All true now … and in 2002. So, why wasn’t all of our effort toward the very best site from the very beginning? Why weren’t the owners of this or neighboring farms approached with an offer for their land?

There was less than adequate due diligence performed on site selection because there was more than ample money available from a board of commissioners who were all too ready to fund any spending idea the EDC proposed.

The budget for the Economic Development Commission is $300,000 yearly. Between 2002 and 2010 they have paid themselves $2,750,000 in taxes, found less than $10,000,000 in direct grants for the businesses which create jobs in this county and tied up $6,000,000 in taxpayer cash and credit in two industrial parks. When they started, local unemployment was 10.4 percent. Today it is 10.3 percent.

Amazingly, only 3 percent of the jobs the EDC claims to have created in Beaufort County are at the industrial parks. Our economy would be much better off if the EDC had put all of their effort into writing grants to businesses which create jobs and no effort into real estate speculation.

Commissioners should not put this mess on the taxpayers and the poor. They should slash the Economic Development Commission’s budget and restrict their mission to writing grants and locating grant funding.

If the dog can’t hunt, then at least keep him away from the chickens.


Beaufort County