Nothing good will come from EDC ordinance

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In January we begged the question of “Why now?” with regards to some Barnwell County Council members’ move to dissolve the Economic Development Corporation and turn the commission into an advisory committee.

In February, in a split 5-2 vote, the Barnwell County Council approved second reading of that ordinance. Next week, third reading is expected to be held on Tuesday, March 14. That will be the final vote to make that ordinance effective.

The fallout is already evident. The municipalities are angered by what they see as a betrayal by the county council over an agreement made in good faith.

Why are the municipalities so adamant?

It is because they wanted to have a voice in the economic development in their communities. Apparently they didn’t feel they had any prior to the re-creation of the Ecomonic Develpment Commission. Now they do and they don’t want to lose it.

Why are the county councilmen so adamant to move forward?

First of all, some on council are still angry from four years ago when the former EDC commissioners deeded all the assets of the corporation to the three municipalities of Barnwell, Blackville and Williston. They are angry they had to negotiate to get the property and money back into the “hands” of corporation - an entity under the county.

And they are determined to do what they wanted to do four years ago - dissolve the local Economic Development Corporation and put the marketing under SouthernCarolina Alliance.

That is what triggered members of the former EDC commission to deed the assets to the municipalities in the first place and started this whole mess in 2013.

Last month Chairman Lowell Jowers called the EDC commission “nothing but a high-priced rental agency” which has sold county property as a loss to companies whose jobs never came or went bankrupt.

We argue that final negotiations had to be approved by the county council. We argue that the EDC commission has had no control over economic forces which impacted our entire nation, forcing a lot of companies to shut down or shelve plans.

We also note that SCA is already marketing Barnwell County for a fee and is not interested in becoming an owner of the properties currently held by the EDC.

When asked in 2013-14, SCA gave the county an estimate of what it would charge to take over the Barnwell EDC - $60,000 a year for the expenses of a local director and administrative assistant. That was the fee at that time. Is that amount still viable?

Additionally, SCA wasn’t asked to be drawn into a dispute between the county and the municipalites.

The EDC operates as unique entity. It doesn’t take taxpayer money but uses the corporation’s funds to operate. No annual taxpayer funds have been used to operate the EDC. Its commissioners are appointed and don’t get paid. Its executive director and part-time assistant are paid out of EDC funds.

So, what are we getting to change now?

Councilman Jerry Creech argued that the EDC is operating in the red. But a close look at the recent audit report shows the EDC (and the county airport, by the way) are operating in the black when you take into consideration depreciation and the difference between the decreased value of property sold to industrial prospects.

Some of those properties were already costing a lot of money for maintenance and repair. The trade-off was the hope for jobs and future tax revenues.

So what are we receiving if this ordinance is passed?

Nothing valuable that we can see.

The towns will remain angry with the county.

The county will get less cooperation from the towns.

The taxpayers will be footing the bill for lawyer fees to settle disputes between the governmental entities.

The taxpayers will be paying for the SCA to handle what the EDC is already handling. SCA will continue to market Barnwell along with five other counties.

Instead of cooperation and unity, there is division and distrust.

We ask again, Barnwell County Councilmen, please don’t pass this ordinance.

So far, nothing good has come of it.