Franklin County supervisors voted to provide $3.35 million in taxpayer money to cover up-front costs for natural gas distribution at Summit View Business Park, but that funding only will be paid as construction happens.
That amount is a drop in the bucket compared to the $87 million the county spent in fiscal year 2018.
The county already approved a special-use permit, allowing Roanoke Gas to build a gate station in Summit View, where it plans to tap the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
It is easy to understand some taxpayers wanting Roanoke Gas to pay for the lines, or at least share some of the cost, but Roanoke Gas did grant a 10-year reimbursement agreement. The agreement stipulates that when new companies move into the business park and become Roanoke Gas customers, the county will be reimbursed the first year’s net revenue the business would generate for the gas company. According to Roanoke Gas executive Jim Shockley, it is the longest agreement the gas company has ever granted.
State regulations prevent Roanoke Gas from funding the extensions to the business park, because they are “speculative in nature.” There are only two confirmed tenants of the business park currently: Valley Star Credit Union and Stik-Pak Solutions.
County Supervisor Mike Carter said he is concerned there won’t be enough businesses in the park within 10 years to allow the county to recover a significant portion of its investment.
So far the county has spent $25.8 million on Summit View and is committed to paying an additional $7.6 million. The $3.35 million total for gas distribution costs the board approved in February is included in the $7.6 million figure.
Snow Creek District Supervisor Leland Mitchell pointed out that based on a study the county did a few years ago, people were leaving the county because of the loss of industry. Summit View is a chance to gain back some jobs in the county. However, as Shockley said, some businesses, especially industrial, require natural gas to be available before they will even consider operations in an area. The county needs these jobs, and to draw businesses into the business park.
Boone District Supervisor Ronnie Thompson said it is common practice for the county to pay for infrastructure such as water and sewer lines. Natural gas lines would fall under the same category. Following this logic it is easy to understand why the county would make it easier for businesses to locate to the area – and gas is just one more benefit to the area from a business standpoint. But should that negate taxpayers who don’t want their money spent on that? Taxpayers who are bearing the brunt of the cost of such a park? Or is it the natural progression of spending money to make money?
These are not easy questions to answer and elected officials have to make the tough choices. The jury is still out as to whether or not this was the right choice. Only time will tell.