Letter to the Editor: Taxpayers get raw deal

Published 10:41 pm Monday, August 5, 2013

To the Editor:

Beaufort County’s politicians cannot help themselves. The ease with which county commissioners waste other people’s money is truly noteworthy.

In August 2011, commissioners approved granting 10 acres of land at the Beaufort County Industrial Park to a local business. This land was assigned a value of $95,000 and was used to attract a second $95,000 grant from the One NC Fund. Both grants were tied to a proposal that included the construction of a 50,000-square-foot facility by 2014 and the creation of 32 new manufacturing jobs.

Given the bleak commercial outlook that has plagued the industrial park these grants had several points in their favor. Benefits included a reduction in the county’s inventory of unwanted land, construction of a new building that would expand the county’s tax base, the creation of 32 new jobs, while the accompanying One NC grant represented the return of $95,000 of state taxes expropriated from our local economy by Raleigh.  Finally, the plan had almost a negligible cost since it used unsellable real estate as the funding required in securing the One NC monies.

Then in June 2013, the grant recipient announced that it had purchased a vacant building on Old Bath Highway and that the land grant was being returned to the county. This news left taxpayers again burdened with 10 acres of unmarketable land and with no prospect of seeing a new facility built as per the agreement.

Quite reasonably the buyer found purchasing a preexisting building with substantial acreage to be preferable to starting from scratch on just 10 acres. Since businesses do not intentionally worsen their balance sheets, we can safely assume that the grant recipient improved his financial position by abandoning the project planned for the industrial park, otherwise he would never have purchased the Old Bath Highway property. The same 32-job enterprise that was earlier headed for the industrial park will now be established on Old Bath Highway at less cost.

At this point, rational investors in a privately owned industrial park would be concerned about how bad their investment was and what they could do to reduce the cost of this unexpected reversal. However, Beaufort County’s commissioners are not rational investors. Their instantaneous, knee-jerk response at seeing their best hope for a new building and an improved tax base vanish was to offer the same business that had just abandoned their agreement $95,000 in cold hard cash as a walking-away gift.

So why are local taxpayers writing a $95,000 check? The political rationale for this new cash subsidy is that it is needed to attract a One NC grant. Our commissioners failed to understand that in abandoning the industrial park the grant recipients seized a better business opportunity and cost savings that they can use to provide their own matching funds.

In funding this agreement after the other party happily and profitably dropped out and moved on, the county commissioners have carelessly cost taxpayers $95,000 and foolishly substituted real money for land we cannot even give away.

Warren Smith

Beaufort County