Orangeburg County’s leaders are gambling that they can put new money to use to improve the quality of life here, thereby making our locale more attractive to people, industry and business.
People associated with existing enterprises in the county believe the gamble is shortsighted and that a new business license fee approved by County Council will hurt them and deter new ventures.
The Orangeburg County Chamber of Commerce and the state chamber were voices in opposition to the fee, as was The Times and Democrat.
Orangeburg County Chamber President Melinda Jackson summarized the opposing view: “We believe that it creates a hostile environment for those businesses who are considering a move to Orangeburg County.”
The county in January will become the ninth in the state to mandate business licenses. A business will be assessed the license fee based on gross sales, another point of contention for opponents, who make the case that Orangeburg County is pushing for development in competition not only with other countries and states, but with other counties in South Carolina. The business fee is another hurdle to overcome – and a weapon that will be used by others in luring development their way and away from Orangeburg County.
County leaders counter they are pro-development and have proven it with a commitment to infrastructure such as shovel-ready industrial parks and incentives to attract industry to locate in them. They cite the capital project (penny) sales tax as a pro-active way to fund development but contend they must do more.
Pledging to do more to boost law enforcement and emergency medical services with an estimated $1 million annually, the elected leaders and the county administrator make the case that the business license fee is more attractive than a general tax increase. Legal limits on the amount of such an increase also make the fee a way to raise the amount of money the leaders said is needed.
Business opponents consistently went before council to tell leaders they are making a mistake and that they are burdening business in a way they will ultimately regret. As much as that remains to be seen, what is to be regretted now is the tone of the arguments that grew more bitter and divisive as the approval process unfolded.
Personal attacks were directed at members of council – and members of council countered with attacks on the business people about their motives. Hard feelings and animosity aren’t likely to subside quickly. But they should.
The members of County Council are elected by people with the belief that they will effectively serve their individual districts – but also strive for the betterment of the entire county. We believe they have the best interest of all people at heart.
But an elected official signs on for the job of listening to those who bitterly disagree with their approach and actions. Criticism should be expected – and heard. In the case of the business license, the opponents had ample ammunition to oppose council on policy grounds without questioning the motives of individual council members. The debate deteriorated. Thankfully – at least formally – it is now over.
In the world of business, word of mouth makes a lot of difference. Existing business and industry are annually praised as the cornerstones of the local economy and the primary developmental ambassadors for the county. Having them at odds with the county leadership cannot be a good thing. Fences must be mended.
The obligation falls on the county leaders to make good on their pledge to put new dollars to use in ways that will benefit the most people. They are requiring local business to take money out of its collective pocket to fund their priorities. They should not take lightly their obligation to deliver.