Statements need evaluation

Published 12:14 am Wednesday, January 11, 2012

To the Editor:

In attempting to explain the Economic Development Commission’s rationale for construction of the still unsold and now deteriorating Quick Start II Building (QSII cost: $2,400,000; built: 2007/8) at the Washington Industrial Park, Tom Thompson, the EDC’s executive director has referenced a study which supposedly asserted that 86 percent of prospective buyers of industrial park locations were seeking buildings.

Taxpayers are entitled to read a study that underlies so much public expenditure. I have requested a copy of this study both in letters to county officials and by appearing before the Beaufort County commissioners on December 12, 2011. I would like to think that the study actually exists, but no one has yet been able to produce a copy.

The Committee of 100, of which Mr. Thompson is the chief executive officer, mentioned this same 86 percent statistic in an advertisement published in the Washington Daily News on December 4, 2011, supporting QSII by claiming, “86 percent of prospects want to buy a building.” The Committee of 100 drew its conclusions based on counted visits to the State of North Carolina’s website for available buildings. However, the N.C. Commerce Department states that real estate searches on its available properties website were not even collected until December 2009, long after QSII was completed, and that these “hits” are raw data and not subjected to any analysis. The identities of these visitors cannot even be determined. They might be nosey neighbors or property owners creating hits by visiting their own property’s website. The Committee of 100’s citation of this data is completely irrelevant to and after the fact of Quick Start II.

Taxpayers have quite sensibly begun to expect “round about” answers from the EDC when it is faced with criticism. EDC’s performance reports and announcements should be read with an eye watchful for excuses and self-promotion. These statements have a history of referencing unsubstantiated “future prospects,” undocumented job creation, and grants indefinitely postponed, as well as, avoiding any mention of the salary and expense costs that have been billed to the taxpayers. There is no analysis of the negative effects caused by cash distributions transferred out-of-county to EDC staff and contractors.

The commercial prospects that EDC proposes as viable candidates for subsidies are often poorly examined and eventually prove unworthy of consideration. The industrial park is in danger of becoming a subsidy sump where unprofitable companies acquire funding at the expense of profitable taxpaying corporations and individuals. The weak are unfairly preserved and the strong are weakened as increasing tax rates penalize the county’s real job creators.

Recently, the EDC even demonstrated more interest in establishing its own public relations image than in generating economic opportunities for the county when, on June 20, 2011, during a televised meeting of the county commissioners, it inadvertently breeched the secrecy of ongoing grant negotiations in a clumsy effort to plead for its own 2012 budget request. EDC is truly “the gang that can’t shoot straight.”

More and more, taxpayers need to evaluate EDC statements for candor and for competence.