Fort Mill Times

Counties should use tax-cut inducements sparingly

When two major firms announced recently that they were building new office facilities in Fort Mill, both cited the Anne Springs Close Greenway as a major draw.

LPL Financial made its announcement at the Anne Springs Close Greenway Dairy Barn and later presented the not-for-profit nature preserve with a $50,000 gift. CEO Mark Casady said his company is so environmentally conscious that its new building will have “net zero” energy consumption.

Representatives from both companies riffed extensively on the greenway’s many amenities that dovetail with their promotion of healthy lifestyles for their employees – hiking trails, canoeing and kayaking and horseback riding. LPL, an investment firm, and health care services company The Lash Group also mentioned the soon-to-be developed office park’s proximity to I-77, the potential for ancillary growth around the site.

One of the most compelling, but perhaps least mentioned factors in moving their existing employees from Charlotte to Fort Mill and the prospect of hiring a combined 3,000 more people for the new facilities is South Carolina’s lower taxes. That inducement was sweetened by $4 million in grants from the state to York County to help pay to develop the site, 30 years of property tax breaks from York County and job development tax credits from the state for both projects.

Existing jobs Lash will move to Fort Mill will qualify for a $1,500 credit per job. New jobs at Lash would be eligible for the full credit, which could be as much as $5,000 per job. All jobs at LPL Financial will quality for the full credit. Job development credits are a rebate of a portion of new employees’ withholding taxes that can be used by companies to help offset the cost of locating a facility, buying equipment and training employees.

Come for the greenway, stay for the green.

But we’re OK with that.

The projects are predicted to be an economic driver that attracts some of the businesses Fort Mill needs – hotels, restaurants, apparel shops and maybe even a movie theater and performance arts center, which is always near the top of our wish list. The 5,000 or so people who will be working at the office park, as well as the companies’ guests, will have money to spend and they might as well spend it here.

We’re not a huge fan of so-called fee-in-lieu of tax agreements like that one York County is offering as part of the financial inducements, but in this case it seems the county is more than getting its money’s worth.

Too bad it doesn’t appear we can say the same thing about the fee-in-lieu of tax agreement the Lancaster County Council is offering another major employer, Duracell.

The council approved a deal that cuts Duracell’s property taxes for the next 30 years. The property tax break saves Duracell $8 million, and a special source revenue credit will cut the company’s taxes in half for 10 years, creating another $3.7 million in savings, according to an analysis by the county’s economic development office.

That boatload of public money will help finance an expansion of Duracell’s plant. That sounds good on the surface, but looks less like a good deal for the county when taking into consideration the number of jobs Duracell says the expansion will create: Zero.

Not a single new position is associated with the deal, Lancaster County Administrator Steve Willis said. We understand the county could have become anxious that Duracell would consider relocating if it didn’t receive something to off-set the cost of its investment, but there are times to take a stand and this is one of them.

At a time when the Indian Land Panhandle, the fast-growing part of the county, is in need of roads and other infrastructure to keep pace with development, and the county says it can no longer spare the $20,000 a year it used to allocate to subsidize an all-volunteer rescue squad, there would seem to be a better use of public money than giving it to a multi-billion dollar company owned by Procter & Gamble.

Tax breaks are important tools for the counties to have in the tool kits, but they should be used wisely.