Curry County commissioners approved map and tax lot corrections to a resolution that will create an “enterprise zone” overlay on 6.5 acres of unincorporated land in the county — and had citizens from Langlois demanding commissioners explain why they knew nothing about it.

An enterprise zone (EZ) is an overlay on land that would allow new manufacturing businesses to build and defer their property taxes, typically for three years, in exchange for offering jobs paying a living wage — here, about $12 to $15 an hour.

“Do you let the ‘perfect’ be the enemy of the good?” said County Administrator Clark Schroeder when asked if $12 to $15 is a liveable wage. “If your whole economy is based on seasonal tourist-related operations, and is the oldest community in the whole state, you see a decompensation of your society.

“From an economic development standpoint, having a $15 an hour job in an area in that’s economically depressed would be better than not having a job there at all.”

In rare cases — more likely in large metropolitan areas — a business could have its taxes deferred up to 15 years.

“That’s very rare,” said Tracy Loomis of CCD Business Development Corp., which promotes economic development in Curry and Coos counties and is sponsoring the EZ. “That’s a $12.5 million to $25 million investment. That’s along the lines of Google.”

No businesses are clamoring at Curry County’s door to do so yet, but the EZ offers the incentive to entice new businesses to the area.

Loomis noted, too, that special taxing districts would not receive less money from such a project, but merely wouldn’t see tax revenue for three years. In the meantime, a business would be getting started and providing good wages in the community.

All development would still be required to go through the planning process at the county level, where the public can voice concerns about a project, it was noted several times.

The EZ would not force anyone who builds to comply by its rules, but would merely serve as an incentive to kick-start the economy, County Attorney John Huttl reiterated.

“Your property could be in the EZ all day long and it doesn’t affect you as long as you don’t do anything with it,” said Huttl said. “It’s just an option. I really think the people in opposition to this are missing the mark.”

Nor would a project qualify if it would “significantly” impact a similar existing business — a description that is not defined.

“I don’t see another BYB Farm Supply competing with B&B Farm Supply,” said State Rep. David Brock Smith, a Port Orford resident. “You can’t build multi-million-dollar condos and sell them to multi-million-dollar people. What we need here in Curry County is living-wage jobs.”

Huttl said he thinks people were confused by the state-mandated use of the word “zone” when the word “overlay” would have been more appropriate.

“I’ll call it funny,” he said of the misunderstanding. “The comments we’ve received are about land use and development. But this is not about land use. All we’re doing is identifying properties that, if they want to apply the tax deferrals, they have to go through the process with the state.”

Citizen pushback

But Langlois citizens said they hadn’t heard anything about the EZ until recently, and told commissioners they don’t want the overlay on their burg, noting that construction alone would strain public services, and tax revenue wouldn’t be seen for three years after a project broke ground.

The Port Orford City Council voted Tuesday night to write a letter to the BOC opposing the process by which it proposed the EZ because the city wasn’t included in the process.

It didn’t help that the map provided in the commissioner packet available to the public was different from that provided by Lane County, which is contracted to do Curry County’s GIS services. The map changed over the weekend and again earlier this week — further raising the ire of those who spoke.

“As the week progressed, there was a lot of changes in the map,” said Ann Schmiener of Langlois. “It’s difficult to tell what’s in and what’s out.”

Commissioner Tom Huxley agreed.

“I’m more concerned with the inaccuracies of what’s put out there,” Huxley said. “You look at the maps and they’re off by two square miles. Last week, residential lots were removed (from the map). I’m not so much for saying remove everything as I’m saying just get it right. It’s better to delay the decision, better discuss the information further and make a more informed decision.”

Some asked commissioners to postpone their decision until everything was better clarified — or nix it altogether.

“This zone has a lack of facts,” said Bob Morrow of Langlois. “It flies in the face of community interests in Langlois. Rural Curry County should hold onto its values. I’m not buying into this for a minute.”

Communication concerns

Representatives from the fire, water and library district all said they’d received no notice of such a plan — even though it’s been in the works for two years — and wanted commissioners to hold off on a vote until all the information was corrected and explained to the public.

Warren Fitzgerald, the chair of Langlois’ water board, said his department did not receive any information regarding the overlay.

“The fire department’s in the same situation; they have not heard about it,” he said. “This directly affects us. I understand Curry County would like to increase its tax base — everything costs more. We have the same issues in our community. I see a bunch of new development straining our resources.”

Fitzgerald said the water district has 115 accounts, only a few hundred dollars left at the end of each month and that its plant is 20 years past its life expectancy. The district’s meeting minutes from last month show unexpected expenses of two failed submersible pumps, which racked up $11,264 for equipment, labor and mileage. The district had to transfer $9,000 from another account to cover those.

“We’re required to spend time and money on more government regulations, additional testing, training, insurance, labor, shipping — we can’t raise rates as quickly as these expenses come up.” he said. “That’s across the board with small districts.”

Loomis said public notice was given to taxing districts, and meetings were held in October 2016, November 2017 and November this year. The county held a meeting in January to clarify some of the language in the resolution, as well.

She said she notified taxing districts based on addresses on file with the assessor’s office.

“We got blindsided by this,” said Thomas Medlin, who also serves on the water board, and who asked for a delay in the vote. “Saying it’s posted on the website is like saying it’s posted in the basement of some building. If you don’t know where to look, you don’t find out.”

But Smith, in town to provide a legislative update for commissioners, said he wouldn’t support an EZ if it would harm people here.

“Langlois is a special place,” Smith said. “I would not do anything that would harm the quality of life for the citizens of Langlois. This is the public process that will be done if any individual wants to move forward using the enterprise zone.”

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