Tax windfall could do great good if added to supplement

Robeson County needed some good news, and last week some arrived from pretty far off the radar.

Piedmont Natural Gas announced plans to build a $250 million facility near Maxton where it will purify and store natural gas, a project that was first talked about a decade or so ago, but never happened when the company found another location that served the purpose and was more economical.

There will be a tendency to conflate the two, but Piedmont officials say the facility is not a result of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. In fact, an already existing pipeline, the Transco, owned and operated by a Oklahoma company, will feed the facility. That’s right, there are existing pipelines all around us already.

Officials with Piedmont, which is a subsidiary of Duke Energy, say that the natural gas stored at the facility will supply 100,000 residential homes, and is not intended for industrial usage. They say the natural gas is needed for peak periods of high demand, and its availability could keep a cap on prices during the winter, saving customers precious dollars.

Presumably, however, the supply will free up natural gas for industrial usage, and will be a tool, along with the ACP, that will help with industrial demand. We are told as a single for instance that Campbell Soup sometimes has to cut back production in winter months because of energy concerns.

Other benefits are more tangible.

Piedmont officials say the construction of the facility, which will sit on 50 acres of 685 acres the company owns between Maxton and Red Springs, will provide as many as 400 temporary jobs. The plan is to begin construction in the summer of 2019 and finish in 2021. After the facility is operating, it will provide 10 to 12 permanent jobs.

Perhaps the most significant benefit is the property taxes it will pay to Robeson County, which are immediate and without a sunset. Piedmont officials, in announcing their plans for the facility, estimated the amount at between $800,000 and $1 million a year. Unlike Sanderson Farms, the county did not recruit Piedmont, so no incentives were required, such as a break on property taxes in the short term.

Sen. Danny Britt was not bashful in putting a note in the suggestion box for the Robeson County Board of Commissioners.

“I would like to urge the county commissioners to place every penny of these extra tax monies into supplements to be paid to our veteran teachers who have greater than 15 years of service in Robeson County,” he said. “These are the teachers who have not been provided for enough in the most recent state budgets.”

We will keep repeating ourselves until it is no longer true, but most of this crowd of commissioners don’t care about education, perhaps because few of them benefited from one, but they also know that it doesn’t sell on Election Day. The proof can be found each year in the county budget.

Our school board recently got down on its knees and begged for additional funding, and the result was not an extra penny.

The commissioners want you to believe that the money can’t be found, but this is just more of their dishonesty.

Taking the high number of $1 million, that would provide enough to bump local supplements about $600 a year for the 1,700 teachers, counselors, librarians and social workers. If a more targeted approach were used as suggested by Britt, then the supplement could be much more generous for those who benefited.

Depending on the approach, bumping the supplement could help in the recruitment of teachers as well as their retention, demonstrate to them that they are appreciated, and be part of a bigger puzzle in lifting up the school system.

We could look long and hard and not find a larger need in the county, or one with more potential to solve so much that ails us.