City, county face great opportunity

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 2, 2007

By Bob Misenheimer

For the Kannapolis Citizen

One hundred years ago, Mr. J.W. Cannon asked the Cabarrus County Commissioners to use tax money to build a road from Concord to a new textile plant he was building in what is now Kannapolis. The commissioners provided the funding and that plant became part of the world’s largest producer of household textiles. People came from all over North and South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee to find work and raise their families.

In 1957, a group of people set out to create the Research Triangle Park between Durham, Raleigh and Chapel Hill on some swampland and pine forests. A non-profit foundation raised more than $l.4 million to start what is now known across the world as a place of innovation. These people seized the opportunity presented to them, and look at what the Research Triangle Park has become.

We now have a similar opportunity to help support the development and construction of the North Carolina Research Campus through a self-financing bond package on the site of the former Cannon Mills. These bonds will go for improvements that will include new intersections, parks and water and sewer lines. Seventy-eight percent of the improvements will be made off the Research Campus and will benefit existing and future residents throughout the City of Kannapolis. A recent study completed for the city shows that the Campus could bring more than 39,000 jobs to the region, with Cabarrus County directly receiving l3,000 of them. The same study shows that these jobs won’t become reality unless we work to improve our community infrastructure, workforce and K-12 education. The City of Kannapolis is asking the Cabarrus County Commissioners to help, not by giving tax money as they did back in 1906, but by pledging some of the increased tax revenues to pay down the bonds.

After a recent public hearing in Kannapolis, letters to the editor in our local newspapers and public comments shared during a recently televised commissioners meeting, I would like to dispel some myths about self-financing bonds, how they work and what this project means, not only to Kannapolis, but to the entire county.

First, property taxes will not increase because of the self-financing bond package. This is true for people who live inside and outside of the self-financing bond district. The monies that Kannapolis and Cabarrus County will gain in new property tax revenue from Mr. Murdock’s $1.5 billion investment will supply the needed funds to pay off the bonds over the next 20 years. In fact, there will still be sufficient excess revenues for both the city and county to use for any purpose they choose. The county will receive more than $85 million in surplus revenue during this 20-year period. Net revenues to the city of Kannapolis will be $70 million

It is important to note that the university buildings on the Campus will be taxable during the first 20 years. The university will be leasing these buildings from Castle and Cooke, making them taxable property. After 20 years, ownership will revert to the state, but other peripheral development will have been created during this time period that will help supplement the growth of even more revenue sources for community projects and programs.

Secondly, the self-financing bond package, in and of itself, will not make home values increase inside the city of Kannapolis. Many residents most likely will see an increase in their property values over time because of the massive investment being made in Kannapolis to construct the campus and revaluation of property by the county tax assessors every three or four years. Increased property values will not be something the city or county is doing to pay for campus infrastructure.

Thirdly, issuing self-financing bonds in this particular case is not a risky investment that could leave Kannapolis and Cabarrus County holding debt if the campus is not built. First and foremost, I strongly believe the campus will be constructed as designed. The North Carolina Board of Governors recently signed a contract with Castle and Cooke to lease the buildings they will use on the North Carolina Research Campus. Moreover, several biotech firms have already leased space in Cannon Village in anticipation of the completion of the David H. Murdock Core Lab Building.

Even if the campus project stalled, the city of Kannapolis has worked out a minimum tax assessment agreement with Castle and Cooke. This agreement says that Castle and Cooke will pay more property taxes than they owe over the next several years to make sure Kannapolis and Cabarrus County have revenues to cover the cost of the bond payments. This agreement will stay in effect until the value of the Research Campus property is sufficient enough to pay off the bonds. If Castle and Cooke stopped construction on the Core Lab Building tomorrow, they would still owe the city tax dollars on buildings they never built.

The North Carolina Research Campus is a golden opportunity for all of Cabarrus County and this entire region. I firmly believe that as a community we need to do everything in our power to maximize the investment being made by Mr. Murdock. I have talked with the mayors of most of the cities in Cabarrus County, and they are all thrilled with the prospect of the campus and what it will mean for our entire county. If this project was being constructed in any of the other communities in Cabarrus County, I would feel the very same way.

In a conversation I had with Mr. Murdock, he related to me that after announcing the creation of the N.C .Research Campus, he received a number of calls from cities nationwide offering to double whatever incentive Kannapolis gave him for building the Research Campus here. The city of Kannapolis has given him nothing. Mr. Murdock could build the Research Campus anywhere in the world, but he selected Kannapolis.

My greatest fear is that we might somehow end up listening to the naysayers who advocate doing nothing, leaving our next generation of leadership to wonder why we didn’t make the necessary investments to fully capture this wonderful opportunity the campus presents.

Bob Misenheimer is mayor of Kannapolis.