Caution is understandable

Published 6:12 pm Thursday, April 7, 2016

Washington’s City Council did the right thing during its March 28 meeting when it tabled action concerning applying for a $500,000 grant that could help bring new businesses — and expand existing businesses — to the former Samsons shirt factory on Brown Street.

Before committing the city to provide a $25,000 match to go along with the grant, council members and the mayor want more information about the proposal. The Rev. David Moore, head of Metropolitan Housing & Community Development Corp., and Martyn Johnson, Beaufort County’s economic developer, discussed the grant (the deadline for the preliminary grant application is April 23) with the council and mayor at the March 28 meeting. The building re-use grant will be used to prepare the former shirt factory to take in new businesses and expanding businesses. Moore did not provide specifics about any prospective businesses. If the grant is awarded, the grant beneficiary would have 18 months to complete the project, which would create an estimated 60 new jobs, if not more, that would pay weekly salaries comparable to the average weekly salary of a little more than $600, according to Johnson. Employers would be required to pay at least 50 percent of their employees’ medical insurance.

That’s good news for prospective employees.

Those are nice numbers, but city officials want more information before they decide if the city will support the grant application. More detailed information about the businesses that could locate in the former shirt factory is something those officials want. Johnson explained that if the grant’s requirements regarding job creation are not met, the state will want some of its money back. For each job short of the stated goal, the state will expect to be reimbursed $12,500, according to Johnson.

That “clawback” condition concerns the council, mayor and other city officials. Rightly so. Why should the city and its taxpayers be on the hook for thousands of dollars because those behind the project could not fulfill their obligations?

After being scratched by clawbacks in the past, it’s no wonder the city is taking precautions to protect itself and its taxpayers.

If successful, the project would bring much-needed jobs to Washington and turn an empty building into a revenue-producing property. City officials realize that. They also understand that should the project fail, some entity will have to repay the state. They don’t want the city and its taxpayers to bear that burden.

Taking time to fully explore the proposed project before committing to support it makes sense, and it is the right thing for the city to do.