01/16/08 — AT&T gets $100,000 incentive for center

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AT&T gets $100,000 incentive for center

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on January 16, 2008 1:45 PM

Despite the protests of several people in the audience, the Wayne County Board of Commissioners proceeded Tuesday morning to unanimously approve $100,000 in incentives for AT&T, which announced in December that it would be opening a broadband technical support call center in Goldsboro later this year.

Of those funds, $75,000 will come from a cash grant, while $25,000 will come from property tax refunds over the next three years.

An identical incentive plan was approved last week by the Goldsboro City Council. The Wayne County Development Alliance also agreed to a $100,000 grant -- paid for by privately raised funds -- while the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center agreed to a $300,000 one.

The moneys are scheduled to go for the renovation and restoration of the old Winn-Dixie Supermarket on U.S. 117, south of Goldsboro. They are contingent on the center's 350 jobs being created and sustained for five years.

AT&T is expected to spend an additional $4.5 million to install the needed infrastructure in the former grocery store.

The call center's payroll is expected to be about $8 million -- about $22,800 per position.

And, explained WCDA President Joanna Thompson, the incentive package was "part of the negotiation to bring those jobs to Wayne County."

During the public hearing, however, several county residents voiced their opposition to the proposal.

"I doubt what I say here will have any bearing, but it seems to me, we're taking these small people's tax dollars and giving it to these bigger companies," Ray Smith said. "And I am against it. We don't have money for schools, we don't have money for this and that, but we have money to give away to big billion dollar companies.

"It just don't seem right to me."

Among his and fellow concerned resident Willie Ray Starling's primary concerns was the thought that as soon as the five year incentive stipulation expires, AT&T could up and leave.

"I realize you guys are sort of handicapped," Starling told the commissioners. "But we need to lower taxes on all businesses, not just large businesses. If the opportunities are here, they don't need to be bribed to come here.

"We need to make North Carolina a good place where people are properly educated and able to do the jobs, and the tax structure is low enough so (businesses) want to come here and are not paid off to come here."

But, Ms. Thompson countered, the cost to the county is actually fairly low and well worth it.

"If you can spend $300 and employ a Wayne County resident for five years, I think it's a good investment," she said.

"Everybody plays the game and sometimes you've got to play the game. We'd be beat over the head a lot more if we didn't get 350 new jobs," added Commissioner Efton Sager.

And, continued Commission-er Andy Anderson, the return on their investment goes beyond jobs; there's also a tax base increase to be considered.

"We're not giving (the money) away," he said. "We will get our money back several fold. We've got to grow our economy. With our tax base right now, we cannot pay for these schools.

"We looked at this very carefully."

Also approved Tuesday was the continued funding of the court liaison -- a position created in August and overseen by Superior Court Judge Jerry Braswell.

Currently, it is being filled by Corin Craft through temporary staffing agency Mega Force Staffing Services, and is intended to help reduce the jail population and to work with court-appointed attorneys by managing the volume of inmate mail, keeping a list of court-appointed attorney visits and checking on other charges inmates might be facing.

Housing an inmate costs the county approximately $50 a day.

So far, said county Human Resource Director Sue Guy, the position has cost $26,000, with another $20,000 expected to extend it to the end of the fiscal year.

At that point, county Manager Lee Smith said the position will be re-evaluated.

"We have had substantial savings this year in our inmate population numbers, but I'd like to get a full year," he said.