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Cabarrus tables incentives discussion

By Hugh Fisher
hfisher@salisburypost.com
CONCORD ó Plans for a tax incentive to allow expansion of a locally-based solar power company were tabled last night after the Cabarrus Board of Commissioners raised questions about property that would be purchased as part of the deal.
John Cox, president of the Cabarrus County Economic Development Corporation, introduced Osbert Cheung, a native of Beijing, whose company SBM Solar Inc. hopes to receive a three-year incentive of $20,884, 85 percent of their property taxes for that period.
In exchange, SBM Solar would agree to hire 16 new full-time employees with an average wage of $40,000 a year.
Also, Cheung’s company would invest $1.3 million in new equipment used to manufacture lightweight solar panels.
Cox said that SBM Solar markets “a competitive project, discussed with other counties.”
But commissioners balked at tying a tax incentive to property that will depreciate in value.
Cox said that the equipment involved in manufacturing solar panels of the type made at SBM Solar has a seven to 15 year lifetime.
Nonetheless, Cox said, the company had agreed on special conditions at the county’s request: a five-year minimum lease on the Concord facility, maintaining those 16 new full-time positions for all of five years with the minimum $40,000 annual salary.
Otherwise, the tax money must be repaid.
Commissioner Coy Privette said that the $3,685.50 that the county would receive in taxes wasn’t enough of a contribution but indicated he approved the stipulations.
“We’re trying to get something you could vote for,” Cox said to Privette.
Commissioner Bob Carruth said that he had concerns about the life cycle of the equipment as a basis for the investment.
But Carruth noted new employees would be putting money back into the local economy and possibly paying property taxes if they relocated to Cabarrus.
He moved to table the matter until the December 21 regular meeting, pending further discussion.
Privette seconded the motion.
“My personal belief is if we’re going to start looking at incentivizing personal personal property, that’s an entirely different matter that needs to be considered,” Carruth said.
Another public hearing will be scheduled for December 21.
Cox left the meeting without further comment.
In other news before the Cabarrus Board of Commissioners:
– The board recognized Deputy David “Buster” Blackwelder on his retirement from the Cabarrus County Sheriff’s Department after 28 years of service.
He began his career working the jail division, then transferred to Patrol Squad B. He was also the department’s first canine officer.
Blackwelder is also an assistant chief with Cold Water Volunteer Fire Department, where he has served for 35 years.
Sheriff Brad Riley said Blackwelder’s service to the county has been tireless.
“He knows a little about everything, and that’s rare,” Riley said. “He’s a cop’s cop. … He’s always going to give you a hundred percent.”
Carruth presented him with a plaque on behalf of the county. “The citizens appreciate your service and the dedication you’ve shown,” Carruth said.
“I’ve enjoyed the opportunity and having the privilege to work for Cabarrus County,” Blackwelder said.
– The board unanimously voted to name the new county park Rob Wallace Park, in honor of the property owner who donated the land.
In a statement faxed to White, Wallace and his wife said they were “humbled” by the honor.
– Commissioners heard the fiscal year 2009 report from Assistant Finance Director Susan Fearrington and Bryan Starnes of Martin Starnes and Associates, the county’s auditing firm.
After budget cuts and delay of capital projects, the county came in under budget by 8.2 million, Fearrington said.
Sales tax collections were down, yet property tax collections have only fallen by a third of a percent.
Starnes gave the county what he called a “clean bill of health,” noting that no adjustments were called for after the audit.
– Commissioners went into closed session to discuss legal matters and property negotiations. White said that the property in question concerns the proposed site of the new Board of Elections facility. No action was expected after the session.

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