Editorial: Worthwhile investment for Rowan

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Before Rowan County commissioners move on to other topics, the issue of incentives for Duke Energy ó worthwhile incentives that commissioners Jim Sides and Tina Hall voted against ó deserve more discussion.
County guidelines call for an incentive package that rebates 85 percent of a company’s taxes over the first five years, if approved by commissioners. To lighten that impact, Duke Energy agreed to a 42 percent rebate for 10 years on the natural-gas fired plant it wants to build at Buck Steam Station. The total value of the rebate over that decade would be around $7.2 million for Duke Energy’s $600 million investment ó the largest single investment in Rowan in county history.
Yet one more “no” vote could have sent Duke Energy officials away with a rebuke, one that might make them think twice before investing in Rowan County in years to come.
This is one of many reasons November’s election is crucial. Sides, a Republican, is up for re-election. If he wins and another person of like mind joins the board, other companies that want to invest here might be on the losing end of a 3-2 vote. That prospect could make them steer clear of Rowan when other communities are eager to grant incentives.
So we put the question to the other candidates: How would you have voted on incentives for Duke Energy? Carl Ford says he is a probable yes. Raymond Coltrain is a definite yes. The Post left a message for Laura Lyerly and will publish her stance as soon as possible.
Here’s what Ford and Coltrain had to say about the Duke incentive package:
Carl Ford, Republican: “It was a difficult decision. I would probably have voted for it, reluctantly.” Ford said he would have negotiated with the company to get the 85 percent tax reduction every other year and pay full taxes on alternate years. He hated the way the deal went down, he said, with Duke asking the county to endorse the project and later asking for a tax incentive. But until incentives stop everywhere and “we get put on an even playing field,” he said, “I will reluctantly play this game.”
Raymond Coltrain, Democrat: “I would definitely have voted for it.” Even though the county will not get the full tax benefit of the expansion initially, he said, “what we get will certainly be more than what we’ve got now.” Others have said Duke would have moved forward with the expansion without the incentive. “How can we be absolutely sure of that?” Coltrain asks. He said approving the incentives was a way for commissioners to “minimize our risk and maximize our gain by working with people. … It creates possibilities for the future.”
Rowan needs a business-friendly climate not only to attract new industry, but also to encourage existing ones to expand here instead of elsewhere. Duke Energy is a large corporation with many facilities. These tax incentives probably won’t make a big difference to its bottom line. But the jobs this expansion will generate during construction and in operations afterwards will make a huge difference to the people who fill them. And the tax revenues the plant will generate over the years will help lighten the load for everyone. This project is well worth a $7.2 million incentive package spread over 10 years.