EDC is over-funded

Published 12:54 am Thursday, November 3, 2011

To the Editor:

Five years ago, the Economic Development Commission received approval to spend taxpayer money in a campaign to regenerate Beaufort County’s economy by undertaking a public-works program. Using tax dollars approved by the county commissioners, the EDC acquired real estate and began the speculative construction of commercial buildings. It spent over $6,000,000 and left the county with two failed industrial parks and an empty, aging building unable to attract a buyer or a tenant.

Hindsight proves this to have been a memorable screw-up, but how necessary should this program have seemed to a reasonable person in 2006? Sadly, it was not reasonable at all. The county commissioners seem to have been unaware of what was happening around them; they were not even aware of what they were doing themselves.

A review of Beaufort County’s economic condition in 2006 reveals little evidence that EDC’s concern over the economy had any validity. Local unemployment was 5.7 percent and represented the lowest level since 1990. We were in a construction frenzy and a record-breaking private real-estate boom. Prices for grains and livestock were in a bull market that translated into farm prices not seen since the Russian grain markets of the 1970s. The agricultural products of PotashCorp Aurora, our largest employer and taxpayer, were in strong demand. Local bank stocks and lending were in a prolonged upward trend. The private sector needed no help at all.

Meanwhile, the county, state and federal authorities were planning an expansion in spending which would include a $35,000,000 school bond, the $15,000,000 hospital expansion, tens of millions of dollars for building two bridges and the rerouting of U.S. Highway 17.

Exactly how much did the Economic Development Commission think it was going to bring to this party? How could the county commissioners have thought that draining the county’s cash balances would help the overheated economy that existed in 2006? Even the most devoted advocate of Keynesian deficit spending believes that it is a tool reserved for counter cyclical stimulus in periods of weak economic activity, not a fuel to be poured on a raging fire.

Now Beaufort County finds itself in a deep recession, with no cash reserves and needing to raise taxes. What were the commissioners thinking?

Recently, the EDC seems to have secured its first cash grant for a local business since the summer of 2007. We hope this anticipated grant might bring $95,000 within three years, but it requires that we must surrender 10 acres of expensively developed county-owned land and $5,000 in cash. Notice, this lonely $95,000 arrives after seven long years. However, commissioners rewarded the EDC with an annual budget allocation of $310,000, including $157,000 in executive salary benefits that will travel to Craven County.

Hiring a single grant writer to work under the county manager’s authority would have made more sense.

The Economic Development Commission has been irresponsibly over-funded while developing irrelevant answers to the wrong questions.  Honestly, EDC is simply a very expensive make-work boondoggle that needs to be terminated.