Beaufort County is intent on luring new businesses and high-paying jobs. County Council members have said diversifying the county's economy is a smart way to increase tax collections so they can enhance county services without raising homeowners' taxes.
But just how to go about the work -- and how to fund it -- has long been debated. We believe county leaders may have hit on a winning funding plan. Tuesday, the council's Governmental Committee proposed a plan to take about half of the business-license fees the county collects, expected to be about $800,000 this fiscal year, and apply it toward efforts to attract new businesses to the county.
While we've been critical of previous county efforts to pay for economic development, this new plan has merit. Consider:
Of course, many details must be worked out. The new pot of money should be used to attract high-tech companies and others that will provide high-paying jobs, not used to lure new businesses that will compete with existing ones. This would not only be unfair to the existing companies that paid into the pot, but would ultimately not help diversify the economy.
And council members should avoid using the new funding source to buy any more land, an erroneous move that takes property off the tax roles in the hope that an unknown business will show up and build on it at some point in the future.
Also, council must also determine how to absorb a nearly $1 million annual hit caused by half of its business-license fee proceeds going into the new pot vs. the general fund. Some reshuffling of priorities will be in order. Tax increases should not be considered.
The county is onto something that could help build the local economy without breaking taxpayers' banks. It's the kind of thinking Beaufort County needs and residents expect.