03/06/07 — Duplin commission considers taxes, development needs

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Duplin commission considers taxes, development needs

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on March 6, 2007 1:48 PM

KENANSVILLE -- Economic development and taxes were once again at the top of the Duplin County Board of Commissioners' agenda Monday as it announced it would be helping the town of Magnolia attract three new businesses to the interchange of U.S. 40 and N.C. 903 -- one of several areas throughout the county targeted for economic growth.

With water lines already running through the identified plots, the commissioners pledged $50,000 in financial assistance and promised to be the lead agency as Magnolia works to extend its sewer lines to the interchange.

Duplin Economic Development Commission Director Woody Brinson estimated the total cost of the project would be about $900,000. It will be paid for largely through grants and other funding sources.

Such growth is possible now that Magnolia's new wastewater treatment plant is online.

Opening earlier this year, it expanded the town's daily capacity from 90,000 gallons to 250,000 gallons after a seven-year moratorium on new customers.

The county's promised share of the funding, Brinson explained, is in line with what it has given for similar projects in Wallace, Rose Hill and Warsaw. The selling point for the commissioners, though, was not only the economic investment, but the fact that the money wouldn't actually be spent until next fiscal year.

The project, which includes a Country Inn and Suites, a Burger King and a convenience store, is estimated to create about 100 new jobs. It will be on the east side of the interchange.

Running sewer lines to the west side, Brinson added, will cost another $500,000 and likely will have to be done later.

In other economic development news, a public hearing was scheduled for April 2 regarding the sale of two lots in the West Park Industrial Center to Vic Swinson and Jart Hudson, owners and operators of Four County Peanut Services. The price of the land is $6,000 per acre.

They will be building a peanut- and corn-drying facility to supplement their existing business on a neighboring lot.

It would create only a few new jobs, Brinson said, but would be about a $1 million investment.

Later in the meeting, as the commissioners once again tackled the possibility of a local sales tax, discussion turned a little more contentious.

First, they decided to rescind a motion approved at their Feb. 19 meeting asking the state General Assembly for permission to consider levying a local one-cent sales tax -- half of which would have gone toward public education capital projects and half of which would have gone toward county capital projects -- and ask instead to be included on Duplin County Democrat state Sen. Charlie Albertson's bill to allow Sampson County the option of levying a local half-cent sales tax -- all of which would go toward school construction and capital improvements.

The reason for the change, commissioner Harold Raynor explained, was because it was his understanding it would be easier to get the legislature to approve a half-cent local option sales tax than a full one cent.

The vote to rescind the original motion was unanimous, but voting on the new measure was four to one, with Fussell dissenting.

He also had voted against the original one-cent sales tax motion last month, stating that he could not support yet another tax on the people of Duplin County.

The other commissioners, however, saw the half-cent sales tax as the best way to raise some much-needed additional revenue.

"I think that's one of the most fair taxes there is," commissioner Cary Turner said.

And finally, with an eye toward future economic growth, the board also voted to establish a Duplin County Tourism Development Advisory Board as a precursor to the Duplin County Tourism Development Authority, which will go into effect July 1.

"For the next few months, the major role of this advisory board is to implement the budget for the authority," Duplin County Tourism Director Rob Wells said. "The authority is your marketing promotion of Duplin County hotels, motels and attractions.

"Our main focus is to generate sales tax for the county. We also are to provide services for our hotels, restaurants and attractions to increase their traffic and revenues."

The creation of the authority is mandated by the state when the county's occupancy tax revenues reaches $200,000. Right now they are at about $187,000, but the commissioners said they wanted to be pro-active.

In 2005, Wells said, tourism created $31.8 million of economic investment in Duplin County.

"This is a very important thing we can do to help economic development in the community," Fussell added.