Let’s stop this inexcusable waste

Published 12:05 am Thursday, September 8, 2011

To the Editor:

The Economic Development Commission has announced a state grant of $95,000 for the purchase of five acres of land at the Washington Industrial Park. The grant is to an established local business, hopefully to be followed by the construction of a 50,000 sq. ft. building and the creation of 32 new jobs by 2015. An additional five acres will be donated to the grant recipient by the county.

This seemingly welcome announcement needs to be carefully considered before deciding how large a triumph it represents.

Initially, the grant recipient was expected to purchase the Quick Start II building, a 50,000-square-foot speculative real-estate development project undertaken by the EDC in 2007. The gamble cost taxpayers over $2,400,000. The grant recipient in question is exactly the type of occupant this large, general-purpose building was expected to attract. Disappointingly, the potential buyer has chosen to build next door rather than purchase the EDC’s still vacant structure.

The 2012 county budget assumed that this sale would go through. Completion of the sale was used as the rationale for reducing the county’s budgeted interest payments by $198,000. Since Quick Start II now remains unsold, its financing burden will remain as a taxpayer liability. Our actual budget deficit problems are, therefore, $198,000 worse than planned for last summer when our property taxes were raised. When we consider that there is a large commercial building across the street from Quick Start II, built at roughly the same time and now offered for sale at a 33-percent discount to the square-foot construction costs of our own building, we can begin to appreciate the financial problems the EDC’s “vision” of the future has created for Beaufort County.

Next, taxpayers need to realize that it took a $95,000 grant and five acres of free land to prime this pump. Not a good sign. The industrial park works only when “other people’s money”, i.e., Raleigh’s grants and Beaufort County land donations, make this location attractive.

Worse, neighboring property owners are denied a level playing field in selling their adjoining or nearby properties simply because the politics of the grant process favors county owned land over that of tax paying, private land owners. The EDC, having trapped itself in a foolish real estate speculation, is using taxpayer money to divert buyers away from neighboring properties and into the industrial park. Our neighbors’ own taxes are being put to a use which directly lowers their own property values.

Maybe we should be happy that the liquidation of this mess has taken even a small step forward. However, the Economic Development Commission has left taxpayers stuck in a $6,250,000 quagmire and literally competing against our neighbors to sell property.  Taxpayers lose either way.

Why has this hapless two-person agency, a government failure funded with $3,000,000 during the past 10 years, been given the power and privilege to choose which taxpayers will benefit and which taxpayers will suffer?

Let’s stop this inexcusable waste and abuse by the county board’s pampered political pet.