They got the goldmine

Published 12:24 am Sunday, June 28, 2015



Beaufort County has finalized its budget for 2015-16. The expected expenditures amount to $57,500,000. That’s $6 million more than was spent in 2013-14 and $3.25 million more than was budgeted for 2014-15. Revenues are expected to fall nearly $1 million short of expenditures. Due to the interest currently being expressed in remodeling the courthouse and jail, it is has become more likely that the next two years will require an increase in taxes.

There was some good news: The Department of Economic Development was denied $2.1 million for the purchase of 70 acres of land adjacent to the half vacant Washington Industrial Park. The interim county manager argued that this purchase would protect the esthetics of the park by preventing the development of a mobile-home tract within view of the industrial park’s occupants. However, the acreage in question is specifically zoned to preclude its development for mobile homes. Not surprisingly, the manager also seemed completely unaware that in 2013, the county commissioners had selected the industrial park as their very first choice for locating a 350-bed prison facility, which would certainly have been within full view of the park’s occupants. How would that have been for visual aesthetics?

The manager’s remarks were sadly indicative of the research traditionally undertaken by economic developers in Beaufort County, i.e., self-serving and shoddy or none at all.

There was also bad news: The Economic Development Department continues to survive. It is still producing one terrible idea after another as it strives to provide county commissioners with flimsy excuses for funneling money from taxpayers to businesses that are either poor credit risks or simply trying to avoid the responsibility of paying money back to their investors. It is basically a propaganda machine and political ally for a very select group of individuals who have learned how to channel money taken from taxpayers into give-away funding for private purposes.

In little over a decade, each of Beaufort County’s 10,000 families have seen an average of $1,000 siphoned from their earnings through higher fees and taxes only to have it wasted on the Economic Development Department’s various failures. This amounts to $10,000,000 that could have been spent on home and auto repairs, utility bills, better food and clothing for our families or simply saved. If this money had been placed in college savings accounts or retirement programs, represented by the Vanguard 500- and 10-year treasury notes, it would have grown to $17 million. Instead, it has been squandered by local politicians and hubris.

If you are among “the hand-full of committed cronies” who have been on the receiving end of the waste spawned by economic development in this county over the last decade, then economic development has been great. If you are one of the other 48,000 residents of this county, then you have had money, which should have been yours to spend and save according to your own plans, poured into political favors, under-used sewers, vacant industrial parks and liquidated real estate.

“They got the goldmine, we got the shaft.”

Warren Smith is a Beaufort County taxpayer.