Jasper’s new solar farms will cost us bundles 

in Bill Rauch/Contributors/Voices by

By Bill Rauch

Where did all these liberals come from? I don’t recall their saying anything about their liberal proclivities when they were running.

Last week’s announcement that a Virginia-based solar energy company called Dominion will spend up to $100 million to build two solar generating facilities in Jasper County this year is sure to spark a renewed fight on the Beaufort County Council over whether to join the SouthernCarolina Regional Development Alliance.

Why? Because the SouthernCarolina Alliance is credited with putting the Dominion/Jasper solar deal together. And the economic development consortium has long unsuccessfully lobbied Beaufort County to join their group. 

Their defenders will use the good news of the new clean industry in Jasper to ratchet up the pressure on Beaufort County to join.

The solar farms will create about 200 one-time construction jobs, according to Dominion’s press release.

The SouthernCarolina Regional Development Alliance currently works with five counties — Jasper, Hampton, Allendale, Barnwell and Bamberg. As the fee to join the group is based on each county’s respective population, if Beaufort County joined it would immediately be providing more revenues ($175,000 per year plus a $20,000 origination fee) to the group’s coffers than all the other counties combined.

Detractors ask: “Would Beaufort County receive in exchange more than half Alliance’s efforts?” 

Whether to join the SouthernCarolina Alliance has been a quiet but deeply divisive issue on Beaufort County Council for the past several years. Most of County Council’s Southern Beaufort County representatives favor joining the group while all the representatives representing districts north of the Broad River have expressed misgivings. 

It has been only Hilton Head Island-based Council Vice Chairman Jerry Stewart, who has said he’s opposed to joining, and Bluffton’s Tabor Vaux who has been on both sides of the issue who have withheld the key votes that have to date stopped the county short of joining.

But with the Alliance’s board member State Sen. Tom Davis, Alliance Associates member TCL President Richard Gough, and Alliance Advisory board member Ed Saxon lobbying the county this budget season, that may change. 

The glamorous news of the solar farms next door will inevitably be trotted out. 

Or the tipping point may ironically be provided by the county’s newest economic development entity, the Beaufort County Economic Development Corp., which was set up to do the work they would instead ask the Alliance to do. They would not, of course, put themselves out of business. They say they will instead wait until their new executive director is hired, and then ask County Council for more funding so that they can bring in Alliance.

Here’s the hotbed of liberalism. Why? Because traditional conservatives say take the economic development money and roll back business license fees, or property taxes, or a combination of the two. 

Take a hard look at unnecessary regulations too. Getting out of the private sector’s way is what will create jobs.

The liberal solution is the opposite: increase taxes to pile programs on top of programs intended to find ways to create jobs.

Let’s do the numbers.

The Beaufort County Economic Development Corp. will ask the four Beaufort County municipalities for $10,000 each from their FY ’18 budgets, and they want a $140,000 state Commerce Department grant protected with which to help pay their new director. The county will be asked to pitch in more to support their operations, but we don’t know exactly how much yet. Then they will ask the Beaufort County Council to spend the nearly $200,000 to join up with Alliance in FY’18.

Lest we forget, the local governments already help fund the Beaufort Regional Chamber of Commerce. Moreover, the city of Beaufort owns and operates the failed Beaufort Commerce Park that has been a famous million dollar sinkhole.

That’s not all. 

Recently the city of Beaufort spent another million-plus dollars to purchase a downtown building into which to put its new Digital Corridor incubator that will be managed, for an additional handsome fee, by Charleston’s Digital Corridor. That effort’s defenders say it’s too soon to judge, but to date results there have been sketchy at best.

There is undoubtedly more.

With budget season approaching it is reasonable to ask how many tax dollars the local governments ought reasonably be spending to bring in business? Do the past results justify the future expenditures? Would the dollars being spent be more productively spent on essential services like law enforcement, fire, EMS, refuse removal or mosquito control? Or, horrors, tax relief?

These are questions to ask our recently-converted liberal friends.

While listening respectfully to their answers watch carefully their hands.  

Bill Rauch was the mayor of Beaufort from 1999-2008. Email Bill at TheRauchReport@gmail.com.