Taxpayer, were we sold down the river or was our team rendered inoperable by star power?
Crook County’s tax base declined by $94 million between 2010 and 2012 and the tax base is expected to decline again in the assessor’s report due this month. Where is the published business plan to mitigate our declining fortunes authored by our de facto county executive, Judge Mike McCabe, and our other two commissioners?
The truth is there is no plan, but Commissioner Ken Falgren claims our tax income will increase this year and prior county position cuts will be refilled as a result. How? Partly by building-permit fees that tell an astonishing story about business acumen and resulting income enrichment.
The 2012 published Crook County tax base is $1.541 billion (watch the “B’s”) generating the funds required to pay for Crook County government needs. Now let us consider the 15-year tax abatement the county has agreed to with Facebook and Apple on their Prineville projects. These two “Goliaths” (The Bulletin “In My View” 6/14/12) are projected to build at least six structures similar to the one now being completed, but the scope of the projects is growing. The first building is operational and the current conservative guesstimate of building cost could be in the half-billion-dollar range, exclusive of the capital equipment (servers) and utilities. Now think capital equipment of forty thousand, boot-box-sized, racked servers that an IBM source estimates cost between $20,000 to $30,000 each — let’s use $25,000 each — equaling $1 billion in capital equipment. Thus a single building valued at $1.5 billion, taxed, at a code (2) tax rate of $16.53 per thousand, would generate $24,795,000 in tax revenue. Add just five more of these gems and the total potential county tax base jumps from a modest $1.5 billion to an eye-popping $9 billion (with a “B”), and a potential tax revenue over $1 billion each year for fifteen years. That’s real money lost and totally bargained away by our elected officials.
All of these figures should be readily available from public records but are not because the county commissioners signed a confidentiality agreement. The figures I have used, of necessity, have been derived from face-to-face talks with some Oregon public officials, knowledgeable private parties, or contractors of similar data storage projects.
I did seek information from two county commissioners. One responded. The county building department, no accurate building permit records identifying actual building cost available; the county assessor, land values and tax rate information promptly and willingly given; the county attorney was asked to verify who signed the confidentiality agreement, “I’ll get back to you”; the Oregon Department of Revenue, no response whatever. The one bright spot, the City of Prineville manager, Steve Forester, was open and informative within the bounds allowed.
Could this agreement have been consummated with a reasonably small tax, say 20 percent? Did our Lilliputian team systematically analyze the Goliaths’ strategy, tactics and goals? Or did they rush in, dazzled by the magnitude of the project? Remember the Goliaths approached Crook County with a plan that advantaged them in some way — low-cost power, land values, climate or an unsophisticated county administration? What was the bargaining chip Prineville held, and was it worth the Goliaths paying some taxes?
We are approaching an important election for the United States of America and for Crook County. In my humble view, it is beyond time to replace all entrenched, inept bureaucrats and vote in more open and enlightened representatives of We the People. Two Crook County commissioners are standing for re-election — one long overdue for retirement, Commissioner Falgren shamefully unopposed. Write in? One plank in the platform of Walt Wagner, running as an independent for McCabe’s seat, calls for more open and transparent government. Consider how we might benefit in the future with an experienced, open county administration. Think your wallet, voter/taxpayer — think business acumen!