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EDITORIAL: Lead, follow or get out of the way

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Shrinking tax base makes economic development a must

By The Staff

Want to know a dirty little secret?

People who live in bedroom communities are eventually taxed to death — unless they leave before they die.

That fate can be foiled, but only if that bedroom community wakes up in time to realize that adding an economic development base to its mix can stave off its demise.

Anderson County remains a textbook case of a bedroom community stuck in the morass of escalating property taxes with little to show for them. Aside from the flush-with-cash health and library taxing districts, our county, city and school governments are, and should be, gripping at the prospect of significant revenue losses.

We had a taste of what it’s like to have a shrinking tax base this year. Next year looks like it could be far worse as assessments figure to sink like a stone and tax rates skyrocket to make up the difference.

We hate to say we told you so, but we told you so and have been doing so for years. As our neighbors added industry to their communities, Anderson stood pat, content to rely on yet another subdivision where a tobacco field once grew to add to its tax base.

Now that our house-building factory is nearly out of business, local government has nowhere to turn but our homes (or paychecks, God forbid) for more revenue.

It should be able to find that revenue in its growing industrial base, but that isn’t happening, frankly, because no one has tried in earnest to build that base for years. Not since the now defunct Industrial Foundation — business owners who struck out on their own to bring in industry — secured most of the factories we now have has real economic development been seen in Anderson County.

While marginally energized in recent years thanks in large part to the foundation turning over $1.2 million in cash to the city/county Economic Development Authority, that agency has accomplished next to nothing. Count if you like its decision to join forces, sort of, with Mercer County to consider an industrial park, but that is apparently going nowhere fast.

Our main problem was and remains the simple fact that we don’t have one person solely dedicated to bringing economic development to Anderson County. Those who comprise the EDA are good folks, but professionals who have businesses to run and can’t spend the time required to court new industry.

Such a person needed to be hired yesterday, even if it means using some of the money bequeathed to EDA.

Instead we’ve joined forces with the Bluegrass Area Development District, a waste of money if there ever was one.

For our thousands of dollars in annual fees, we have one person assigned to Anderson County a day a week (allegedly), and that person has demonstrated nothing in terms of knowing what’s going on in here.

Here are two examples: 1) When General Cable laid off a couple of dozen employees earlier this summer, we called and asked her for a comment. She hadn’t hear about it, she said, but got back to us a day after our story was printed, said it’s a private matter and that she had no comment. 2) When Wild Turkey was sold, we received basically the same response, but most telling was that she hadn’t heard about it.

That’s ridiculous, especially when we’re told one of her main priorities is to assist local companies with job retention.

Hiring Bluegrass ADD for this mission might have seemed like a step in the right direction at the time, but it has amounted to nothing more than window dressing that isn’t even doing a good job at hiding our broken glass.

The good news is that after years of ignoring yearly revenue increases by local government that were hidden by growth, Anderson Countians are waking up and starting to ask questions. The latest example being the group of business owners who stared down the school district’s plan to increase the tax rate 5.25 percent. The school board blinked, and the rate stayed the same.

Now, let’s hope those same people and many more climb aboard the economic development bandwagon and get it the heck out of the barn.

And if our elected leaders won’t head that parade, here’s hoping some of those same people form a new Industrial Foundation and do the job for them.