Now is the time for the commission to dig in its heals and demand the best deal for county taxpayers
During a discussion hosted by the League of Women Voters, Commissioner John Sweet informed the audience that without the waterfront revitalization component of the Community Enhancement Plan (CEP) neither Coos Bay nor North Bend would receive any direct tax benefit from the proposed $4 – $6 billion Jordan Cove LNG export terminal. Sweet is correct, there are twelve taxing districts or special levies on the North Spit including the Coos County and Coos Bay schools, but the cities are not amongst them.
Under the existing taxation system and IF the commissioners chose to opt out of the Bay Area Enterprise Zone and do away with the CCURA (Coos County Urban Renewal Agency), 56% of the tax proceeds would go toward education and the remaining 44% distributed between libraries, 4H, the airport, the Port of Coos Bay, the North Bay Rural Fire District and Coos County. According to an analysis done by Commissioner Bob Main and assuming a $4 billion valuation, Coos County’s 15.58% share would bring $6.3 million annually filling a looming budget deficit and restoring full county services at the jail and sheriff’s office.
Under the CEP, however, 50% may or may not go towards education via the South Coast Community Foundation and 25% will be carved out of the taxing districts to fund waterfront development on the bay. The final distribution doesn’t even follow the existing allocations as the appointed heads of the CEP have arbitrarily and very un-democratically reduced percentages due to the county and the fire district.
“There isn’t much call for gold plated fire trucks,” quipped Sweet.
Sweet, who along with Melissa Cribbins is an avid proponent of the CEP, acknowledged that under this plan the county would forfeit $5 million of its annual revenue in order to speculate on development projects in Coos Bay and North Bend. The county’s final payment should Jordan Cove and the CEP ever happen is just $1.3 million. The county is facing a $2 million shortfall so even in the unlikely event Jordan Cove receives all its permits and approvals and starts construction before 2017, the county share is not enough.
Sweet admitted that the county is facing serious imminent reductions in services without either federal assistance or money from Jordan Cove
The CEP is dependent upon the unanimous consent of the four taxing districts sponsoring the Bay Area Enterprise Zone. If any one district, either the Port of Coos Bay, the cities of Coos Bay or North Bend or the County refuse to sign on to the agreement the entire concept will fold. Sweet and Cribbins received financial support and endorsements from the business community and the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce but neither is demonstrating a very businesslike approach to the CEP. If the commissioners were ever in a position of strength to negotiate the best deal for county taxpayers, now is the time.
Regardless of whether you support Jordan Cove and or the CEP or oppose them both as I do, the CEP is a bad deal for the rural county. The CEP will effectively extract a payment in lieu of taxes from Jordan Cove and put what should be public funds into the control of unelected individuals that are unaccountable to the public. What’s worse, during the same meeting Coos Bay City Councilwoman Jennifer Groth said the CEP process was working so well that future development projects may be handled the same way. Sure, privatizing government may be working well for Coos Bay and North Bend who aren’t entitled to this money anyway, but it isn’t going to benefit the rest of us.
Sweet and Cribbins’ salaries are paid for by the county but the pair may as well be working for Coos Bay and North Bend.