Taxpayers deserve accurate answers

Published 12:31 am Wednesday, December 14, 2011

To the Editor:

The Economic Development Commission (EDC) periodically issues reports on its performance. The county commissioners should, on behalf of the taxpayers, require that the EDC improve on and correct the inadequate and amateur reports that it has published in the past.

Although, it would be rash to infer that the EDC has consciously inflated their performance, it is undeniable that they have demonstrated no understanding or competence in properly presenting data for analysis by the taxpayers. The Dec. 31, 2010, report is less help than hindrance.

On Dec. 31, 2010, the EDC’s Performance Report as of July 20, 2010, was published. Although the report’s cutoff date was for July, it included two potential grants not even announced until the following November and December. These two grants were mistakenly mismatched with the period actually under consideration. The report borrowed from the future. It carelessly claimed credit for grants announced after the specific reporting period closed.

Out of the entire $16,110,000 in grants and investments, which the EDC credited itself with generating throughout its history, a remarkable $1,585,000 had been continually postponed, $1,750,000 had not met with their compliance conditions, $150,000 was an arithmetic error and roughly $7,000,000 came from our own pockets and was then sunk into the mire at the Washington and Chocowinity Industrial Parks. The Report made no mention of EDC’s overall operating cost to taxpayers, i.e., roughly $3,000,000 and rising.

The Report is presented in terms of “cumulative” performance, which neglects highlighting the fact that no new grants were stated as being made in the reporting periods 2008, 2009 or 2010. What was EDC paid over $1,000,000 for doing?

The result of 10 years of economic central planning is that more money seems to have been locked up in failed investments, non-county contractors and EDC payroll than has been recycled into our economy.

The EDC’s claims regarding “Jobs Added and Retained” are presented without any documentation or verification. The numbers are not even consistent with the EDC’s own announcements. Taxpayers can attempt to piece together how poorly the EDC’s annual report reflects the reality of its work by examining a few of its jobs census entries and comparing them with public statements of local employers, minutes of City of Washington Council meetings, OneNC Fund announcements, newspaper reports and EDC’s own statements. For example, on Dec. 14, 2010, a OneNC Fund grant described PAS as having 137 employees. That same month, the EDC took credit for 230 jobs at PAS. Even with the OneNC announcement in hand, the EDC incorrectly reported the employment at the firm and the year of the award.

The work is haphazard and unprofessional. Together these errors render the reports of little use to voters analyzing the EDC’s record of achievement. Taxpayers deserve accurate and candid answers from our government. Anything less creates distrust.

Fortunately, the commissioners can settle any future questions of EDC reports by requiring that reports be published by the county manager’s office according to a stated methodology and professional standards.