In response: No 'sour note' on Toyota, but some real concerns

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 24, 2007

By Tina Hall

For the Salisbury Post

I am responding to the Jan. 18 editorial written by the Salisbury Post involving the Toyota tax incentive deal approved at the last County Commission meeting. The editorial worried me because it gave readers the impression that the commissioners were supposed to rubber stamp the tax incentive proposal with an automatic yes vote.

Commissioner Jim Sides and I were accused in the editorial of injecting a “sour note” by asking questions and then voting against the tax incentive. Disappointingly, the Post failed its readers by giving an incomplete picture of this important issue.

At Tuesday’s meeting, I pointed out that the Economic Development Commission had not provided a prospectus showing possible gains to Rowan County if Toyota employees were to locate here. Of the 40 projected hires, most if not all come from outside of Rowan County. No impact study has been given to commissioners as required by our Investment Grant Program. Commissioners evaluate these grants using the guidelines as stated in our published program.

Toyota has yet to provide definitive information on additional phases of development for the Cline site or provide any type of guarantee that they will stay in Rowan County after the five-year incentive expires. In other words, commissioners were given nothing in writing for such a substantial business deal involving citizen tax dollars. In my opinion, these are legitimate concerns — not sour notes.

Further, I stated my concerns about Rowan’s unemployment rate being high compared to surrounding counties. Information was given at the EDC retreat that showed a sharp increase in unemployment since June. I’m concerned. Also, I have learned that one of Rowan’s largest employers is planning to reduce its workforce substantially. Again, I’m concerned. According to our Investment Grant Program, jobs are a legitimate consideration for approval of tax incentive money, as are other areas. Did the Post editorial board check factors other than tax-base enhancement that commissioners might have considered from the county’s list of guidelines? Remember, we’re talking guidelines here — not county policy, as described in the Post editorial.

Bottom line, should we be putting all of our tax incentive eggs in one basket — one that fails to create jobs for Rowan citizens? Right or wrong — these areas (as stated that night) factored into my decision to deny the tax incentive. I believe that Toyota intends to locate here primarily because it suits their needs at this point in time. Toyota is investing $22 million. In my opinion, the $519,000 tax incentive is the icing — not the cake.

The Salisbury Post demands fair and open government, as it should. Its readers deserve more than one side of the issue.

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Tina Hall is a member of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners.