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Rowan County approves Duke Energy incentives

By Jessie Burchette
jburchette@salisburypost.com
County commissioners approved one of Rowan County’s largest-ever property tax incentive agreements Monday, but they did so under a revamped incentive plan for Duke Energy’s $600 million investment that will put more money in county coffers in the initial years.
And Duke Energy volunteered to ensure that all 500 construction jobs will be filled with documented workers ó no illegal immigrants.
Randy Welch, a district executive with Duke Energy, gave county leaders the revamped incentive agreement and the pledge to verify the status of workers during a meeting Monday evening with the Rowan County Board of Commissioners.
At the outset, the county will keep nearly $1 million in taxes annually, nearly four times the $253,000 specified in the initial agreement.
Duke Energy plans a natural-gas-fired combined-cycle plant at its Buck Steam Station. The $600 million investment will be the largest in the county’s history.
Under the county’s incentive policy, the project qualifies for an 85 percent rebate of county taxes for five years.
To give the county more dollars initially, Duke agreed to reduce the annual rebate to 42 percent and extend the period to 10 years.
Based on the State Utilities Commission assessment of value, officials project Duke will pay $1.7 million annually, with the county rebating more than $710,000, for a total of around $7.2 million. The county will keep $984,000 a year. After the 10-year rebate period, the county would keep all of the taxes.
Commissioners approved the agreement by a vote of 3-2.
Chairman Arnold Chamberlain, Vice Chairman Chad Mitchell and Commissioner Jon Barber voted for the grant with Commissioners Tina Hall and Jim Sides voting against.
Barber praised Duke Energy, citing its philanthropy in the community, and he stressed the need to “send a message that we are business friendly.”
Mitchell said the 500 construction jobs, although temporary, will be a great help to county residents. He also cited the need for increased tax dollars with many projects, including a new jail, in the offing.
Sides and Hall questioned various elements of the impact study prepared by the Salisbury-Rowan Economic Development Commission.
Both also stressed that while they support the project and welcome it, they couldn’t support incentives.
Hall and Sides noted that when Duke asked for a resolution of support for the project several months ago, they voted for it. And they also supported the company’s request for a conditional-use permit to allow construction of the new facility.
“There was never any mention of incentives,” said Hall. She said incentives are to attract businesses to locate here. She said no incentive is needed since this is a done deal.
Sides, an opponent of incentives, said Duke is already getting a huge break from the state, which sets its tax value at 50 percent of the real value.
During the public hearing, speakers took issue with the incentives.
Larry Wright, of 170 Heritage Lane, called it corporate welfare. Wright noted that the county is having to give up taxes.
“What are top executives at Duke sacrificing?” he asked.
Ann Brownlee, president of the Trading Ford Historic District Association, briefly cited the historical importance of the site. She said it would be a sin for taxpayers to subsidize the destruction of a historic site.
Clearing on the site is scheduled to begin later this year, with construction starting early next year. Duke is awaiting state action on one remaining permit.
The county’s biggest payout of tax rebates went to another power company. Carolina Power and Light (CP&L) announced plans in 2001 for a $400 million facility off N.C. 801.
Although the investment topped out under $400 million, the county rebated $7.8 million of $9.5 million taxes paid between 2003 and 2007 on the facility known as Rowan County Power Generating LLC.

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