Dropping Fees Won't Lure Business CARROLL COUNTY

September 01, 1993

Carroll's commissioners should quickly forget the idea of waiving or capping building and inspection fees and permits as a means of attracting new business to the county. This idea, which jTC surfaced at a recent commissioners' meeting, has not been well thought out.

When it comes to making decisions about plant and office locations, the amount of money spent on fees and permits is an incidental consideration for most businesses. Quality of work force, access to transportation, the property tax rate, the cost of energy, responsible and responsive local government and the quality of life are much more crucial to a business in determining where it will locate.

Giveaways are not cost-effective inducements. Most of these companies and developers have already made a decision on whether to relocate. Giving them a break on fees is often a gratuitous reward for a move they would make anyway.

True, developers may grumble about building and inspection fees. But the county is correct in making them cover the costs of reviewing their plans. The trend in government financing is to make people who use public services pay for them. New business should not be treated as a special class of user.

Waiving routine fees and permits indiscriminately for new businesses also sends a negative message to the established ** companies that have been paying their taxes and contributing to the well-being of the community for years. Certainly, Carroll needs all the new high-wage, non-polluting companies it can get. But the commissioners should remember that retaining existing businesses is more important to the county's continued economic health than attracting new enterprises.

Proponents of the fee break argue that for every $1 a business pays in real property taxes, it gets only about 55 cents in direct benefits. Yet that cost-benefit comparison is misleading. For instance, businesses don't enroll children in school, a large public expense, but they certainly benefit from a well-educated populace and few of them would want to cut back on education spending.

To foster continued economic growth, the county must remain an attractive place for business. But eliminating a few fees will not measurably strengthen that effort.

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