Board OKs tougher economic incentive guidelines

Jul. 16, 2013 @ 09:35 AM

After a lengthy discussion and a series of motions, the Lee County Board of Commissioners approved new stringent economic development incentive guidelines Monday night.

The policy, which was approved with a 4-to-3 vote, would require new businesses seeking incentives to make a $20 million investment into the county, hire and maintain 25 jobs and not be a direct competitor of an existing business. A Lee County business looking to expand would have to invest at least $5 million.

Commissioners Amy Dalrymple, Ricky Frazier and Robert Reives voted against the policy.

"I think we are going to cause ourselves some grief in the future," Frazier said. "I understand our reasoning for what we are trying to accomplish, but then, on the same token, we don't want to cause any hurt to our county in the long run."

Amendments to lower the economic investment and job creation thresholds failed to pass with Commissioners Andre Knecht, Charlie Parks, Kirk Smith and Jim Womack voting against them.

"This is the consolidation of a lot of good input," Womack said. "And it represents a very fair policy. Not all of us agree that incentives are necessary. But at least we are willing to compromise."

The high standards limit small businesses from seeking incentives, Dalrymple said, and the county is in need of any and all job creation.

"I still hold firm and fast to my objections," she said. "I know we have been back and forth, but I say our unemployment numbers are not changing. Why don't we leave the door open and see what comes to the (Lee County Economic Development Corporation) and then we determine what is a viable business?"

The policy only applies to cash incentives and the county has the right to review all requests for incentives. Lowering the tax rate, providing infrastructure and workforce development are all ways the county can support business instead of cash rebates, Parks said.

"How do we spend our tax dollars to get the best possible employment we can get for our people?" he said. "That is what we have to think about. If we spend it all on incentives, then we may not have it for education. We may not have it for infrastructure. We may not have it for our police protection."

In other matters, commissioners:

* Approved the site design and location for a proposed dog park at O.T. Sloan Park. The off-leash park, estimated to cost $25,000, has garnered $5,000 in private donations. Commissioners have agreed to maintain the park once it is built, but has not committed any funds to construct the dog park.

* Passed a resolution honoring Lee County Sheriff's Office Deputy Julian Lee Powers, who was killed in the line of duty in 1959. Powers's family is seeking to name the bridge at Carolina Trace Gated Properties — near where Powers was shot and killed — in his memory. The resolution will be sent to the N.C. Department of Transportation for naming consideration. The family was present during the meeting and accepted a copy of the resolution.

* Were introduced to the 2013 Lee County Young Commissioners Leadership Program participants. The Lee County students opened the meeting with the invocation and Pledge of Allegiance. The dozen students are participating in the two-week leadership program to develop a greater understanding of local government and issues facing the community.

* Approved a contract between the Lee County Heath Department with Nutrition That Works LLC to provide a registered dietitian.

* Appointed Parks as the voting delegate for the annual N.C. Association of County Commissioners Conference in August.