County leadership rationalizes spending tax collections on charity, picking winners and losers, by saying it is supporting programs it would have to otherwise fund were they not already being efficiently handled by other agencies.
In the deal sold to taxpayers as economic development and not corporate welfare, GE promised to invest a total of $104,864,100 in the community over the next four years and create 131 jobs at its Linamar plant.
According to the contract, 26 engineering, management, and quality compliance jobs would be created, paying an average of $92,000; and 105 new machinists jobs would pay $38,356 plus benefits. GE also expects to generate $2.8 million in ad valorem tax revenue for the county over the next ten years.The county did, however, have enough to promise General Electric $685,000, payable over the next three years.
Presenters acknowledged the City of Asheville and the state were also giving the company awards, though amounts were not discussed. GE is a multinational corporation with revenues equaling $122.1 billion and total assets valued at $377.9 billion in 2017. According to government logic, recruiting multimillion-multinationals within one’s borders to grow the tax base far outweighs opportunity costs to society of that company investing in rent-seeking instead of innovative productivity.
The GE Linamar plant manufactures jet engine components. While the ailing parent conglomerate is, under new management, attempting to spin off divisions to better benefit shareholders, aviation is one of the core functions it intends to retain. The presenters further said Asheville’s plant is one of the company’s “premier” sites, and the home office favors it because it has the support of local government.
GE came to town in 2014. As Project X, it collected $18.5 million in cash and real estate deals from the county, $1.568 million from the City of Asheville, and $558,700 from a One North Carolina grant. At the time, GE received additional incentives to set up or expanded facilities in Durham, Wilmington, and West Jefferson.
Ellen Frost was the only commissioner to vote against the incentives, disappointed the presenters could provide her with neither the range and distribution of wages she wanted nor the number of Buncombe County residents it expected to hire. The presenters did share the company recently awarded $100,000 to Pisgah High School in Haywood County to train machinists.
In Other Matters –
Having compensated for lost transparency under former management, there was little left to say at the public hearing for the 2018-19 budget. Still, Manager Mandy Stone encouraged members of the public to access the budget and related documents via the May 15 agenda and communicate concerns before June 19 via 828-250-4066, LetsTalk@BuncombeCounty.org, or Budget@BuncombeCounty.org. The county even changed its policies to provide parking validation and free bus passes to citizens who participate in the commissioners’ public meetings.
A hot topic was funding for fire departments. Twelve of twenty departments requested additional funding. Reasons included being able to provide competitive wages, invest in engines or buildings, and grow fund reserves. Needs vary among departments, and this year, the county has decided to provide back-office support to realize efficiencies and help departments that aren’t managing resources as efficiently as others. The county will also disburse property taxes to the departments monthly instead of in one lump sum.
Frost expressed interest in approving funding only for wages, but acknowledged the county has no powers to dictate how money is spent. It is equally powerless to tell schools how to spend the money it gives them.
Stone had said the county had increased funding to public schools from $57.6 million to $77.4 million over the past five years. On top of that, it had allocated $4.1 million for social workers, school resource officers, and school nurses. School spending was outpacing revenues, meaning the commissioners would have to soon cut back or raise taxes.
During public comment, citizen Jerry Rice said the teachers had marched in Raleigh for more pay, while all along the schools were harboring $20.2 million in a rainy-day fund. Leadership, he said, should have used that money for teacher pay instead of asking the county for, and receiving, $20 million for teacher supplemental pay over the last five years.
Even under new management, the county prepares a budget, and then the fire departments and schools, which are separate taxing districts, add their requests. Rice, like Frost, noted there was neither policy imposing structure, oversight, or accountability on those requests; nor financial planning, like the county was offering to give the fire departments, to estimate what those requests might be in the first round of developing the budget.