On Monday, Feb. 22, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners voted 7 to 2 to approve a $7 million incentives package for High Point that completely resets the county’s long established policies and practices regarding incentives.
The two no votes were from the two Republican commissioners on the board – Justin Conrad and Alan Perdue – who strongly objected to the $7 million handout on a vast number of grounds.
“This isn’t bad policy – this is horrible policy,” said an incensed Conrad after the online meeting.
In the past, the county’s incentives have gone to businesses. High Point is a city with its own tax base.
In the past, when the county has offered an economic incentive, it has been for a specific, well-defined project with exact job creation or scope of investment numbers promised. With the incentives approved Monday evening, no one knows what the money will be used for.
It was made clear that the $7 million, paid out over 20 years, was to be used for some sort of downtown development, and that the money could not be used to pay off the debt from past projects – especially, the commissioners said, not the debt from the new downtown stadium in High Point.
High Point will report back to Guilford County at the end of each year and inform the commissioners how the city has been spending the money.
In one of many very interesting moments in the meeting, Commissioner Carolyn Coleman said she didn’t want the money to be used to build a parking deck.
Chairman of the Board of Commissioners Skip Alston responded, “High Point has not agreed to build a parking deck as of right now, I don’t think.”
Coleman replied, “But they have not said they won’t build one.”
“Well, we don’t know what they’re gonna – we don’t know what the demand is going to be; they don’t know what the demand is going to be, so we don’t know,” Alston said.
“Coleman said, “Well I guess I’d like them to narrow it down a little.”
Conrad jumped in.
“You’re a hundred percent right, Miss Coleman,” he said. “That’s exactly the point: We don’t know what the money is going to – all we know is that we are providing $7 million.”
Alston said, “What they would do, in the motion, Miss Coleman, is that they would give a list of everything they used the money for at the end of the year – to justify the money.”
He added, “I would hope that we would stay in contact with them since we are partnering with them on this now.”
Alston’s point is a good one. It does seem like, if you’re giving someone $7 million, the least they can do is check back in with you every now and then and let you know how they’re spending the money.
Commissioner Kay Cashion was taken aback when the motion was stated at the meeting.
“The language has changed again,” she said.
But she was one of the lucky ones because she apparently had seen at least one version of the motion before voting on it. Other commissioners had seen nothing.
In the past, the approved incentives have been in writing and included in the meeting agenda.
Perdue said during the meeting that he couldn’t vote for it because he didn’t even know what the motion was. He said he wanted to see something in writing in order to discuss it intelligently.
Conrad also said he had not seen anything in writing.
“They didn’t give it to us,” Conrad said after the meeting. “We didn’t have the motion.”
The Rhino Tines was surprised to see before the meeting started that the motion was not posted with the agenda, as is standard practice. Nor was there a general description of the motion. Nor was a copy provided after the Rhino Times requested one at the start of the meeting. Nor was one provided by late Monday night.
Here is the entire meeting agenda posted by the county:
- Welcome and Call to Order
- Unfinished Business
Also, in the past, incentives have been used to persuade a company to choose Guilford County over a competing location. High Point was presumably not going to conduct its downtown development in Memphis or Tucson if the commissioners didn’t approve the incentive.
The most certain point stressed at the meeting seemed to be that money was not going to be used to pay off debt for High Point’s downtown stadium – which, interestingly, was exactly what the money was initially requested for four years ago when High Point first came to the commissioners and requested incentive money.