The relocation of Mizuno from a facility in Norcross to an empty distribution center building in Braselton-Barrow County is perhaps a positive economic sign. At minimum, the move will bring a few more jobs closer to Barrow County at a time when Barrow needs new employment opportunities.
But I’m not a fan of the kind of tax breaks the county gave to Mizuno to locate in Barrow. The tax breaks were given on $13 million in new equipment the company plans to install.
That’s a zero-sum game. Essentially, the county won’t gain very much from the deal because the firm will only pay a small part of the taxes due on equipment that will be rapidly depreciating. As the county gets an increasing percentage of the taxes due, that equipment will be falling in value. From a total dollar standpoint, it won’t work out to be much money to the county.
The theory behind offering industries tax break incentives is to lure new jobs to the area. Barrow does need new jobs outside the retail and service sector, but I’m not sure the deal with Mizuno should really qualify for that kind of tax break.
• Mizuno is leasing space in an existing building. No new building investment will be happening. Duke Realty, the owner of the building, is already paying taxes on the facility — no new property taxes will be gained in the deal.
•Mizuno is relocating to Braselton-Barrow from Norcross. The firm currently employs around 100 people and it’s likely that most of those people will simply commute up I-85 to Braselton to keep their jobs. That means few new job openings will really be available.
• The firm says it will create an additional 50 jobs by the end of 2016, but that may or may not happen depending on the economy. Even if the company does create those new jobs, the location of the facility at the junction of Barrow, Jackson, Hall and Gwinnett counties along I-85 means that most of those positions will probably go to people who don’t live in Barrow County.
• Let’s make an optimistic assumption that over the next three years, Barrow County residents will make up one-third of all Mizuno jobs. That’s 50 jobs. And let’s make a conservative assumption that the county’s deal with their firm will save Mizuno $500,000 in taxes. That means the county will have “paid” Mizuno $10,000 per local person employed there. Is that a good deal?
What Barrow leaders did in the Mizuno deal wasn’t illegal or wrong. A lot of area counties do similar deals, some much worse for taxpayers (ie. Caterpillar.)
But these kinds of deals are really just a form of corporate welfare. And most counties making these kinds of tax break deals never audit the firms to see if the company lives up to what was promised. I’d be willing to bet a steak dinner that nobody in Barrow County government will remember to audit Mizuno in 2017 to see if the firm actually did live up to the terms of this deal.
So the City of Winder wants to create a “19th Hole” at its new golf course as a place for people to carouse and drink. One city official said creating an outdoor facility at the course would be a great place to hold bachelor parties.
Barrow County needs a lot of things, but another place for drunken parties probably isn’t high on the list.
I’d bet that if someone took the time to run a calculation, Barrow has more bars and drinking establishments per capita than just about any county in the state. (Ironically, it probably also has more churches per capita, too. Sin on Saturday night, repent on Sunday morning.)
The entire idea for the city to buy the golf course is suspect. It may work out, but it could also turn into a black hole that sucks money.
The Barrow County government is looking for ways to privatize some of its government functions while the City of Winder is finding ways to “governmentize” some private functions.
Makes me want a drink.
There’s a lot of frustration with the Barrow County School System, as is evident with the large number of people running for a school board seat this election cycle.
But being on a school board is by far the worst public job in the world. School boards have very little real power or authority and most of what they do is little more than gussied-up BS.
For those running for a BOE seat, you may not have near the power to make changes that you think you will have.
School boards really have only three main duties:
1. Hire a superintendent. Super-intendents have the real power in a school system. BOE’s cannot hire anyone else without the superintendent’s recommendation.
2. Set the tax rate. BOEs do set the tax rate, but that is largely a function of what the state funding may be in a given year. Board members do nominally set the budget, but that is largely controlled by state mandates and local student growth patterns.
3. Locate new school sites. BOEs decide where to build new schools, but the actual design of those facilities is largely governed by the state.
All too often, those running for BOE seats have some narrow agenda they want to pursue. Sometimes they’re mad at a teacher or coach. Sometimes they’re right-wing nuts who want to ban teaching evolution or put prayer into classrooms.
For those who say they want to “improve” education, here’s the reality: As a BOE member, you can do very little to directly impact the quality of education in your community. You can only rubber-stamp teacher hires. You can’t dictate what’s taught in the classrooms. And you can’t change the demographics in your community, which is often the biggest factor in the quality of a local school.
The biggest impact a BOE can make is in hiring a superintendent. But whatever their strengths, most BOE members have never hired anyone in their life. They don’t know how to go about hiring or evaluating candidates to be superintendent. And they lack both the knowledge and the leadership ability to hold the superintendents accountable after they’re hired.
So the real question to ask those seeking a seat on the Barrow BOE is, “What is your agenda? What do you want to accomplish?” If a candidate makes wild promises, you know that person isn’t right for the job because he really doesn’t understand it.
Mike Buffington is co-publisher of the Barrow Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.