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Mecklenburg County OKs tax incentive for Carowinds expansion

Following the Charlotte City Council’s lead, Mecklenburg County commissioners Tuesday approved nearly $600,000 in tax incentives for the parent company of Carowinds to expand the theme park in the county.

The vote wasn’t unanimous, with Republicans Matthew Ridenhour and Bill James voting no. Republican Karen Bentley was absent.

The plan calls for Ohio-based Cedar Fair Entertainment Co. to spend $30 million – primarily for a major roller coaster – to expand the North Carolina side of Carowinds. The company predicts the expansion would increase yearly attendance by 385,000 customers and create 15 full-time jobs with an annual average salary of $43,000.

Cedar Fair also projects there will be 270 new seasonal jobs each summer that will pay an hourly wage of as much as $8.25.

In exchange, the county agreed to reimburse 90 percent of the entertainment company’s new taxes for three years – totaling as much as $594,516.

Combined with the city’s agreement Monday, Cedar Fair stands to be reimbursed nearly $925,000 in taxes paid over three years.

Before Tuesday’s meeting, Ridenhour and others mounted a move to reject the incentives after the board voted for them in June in closed session. Ridenhour, who supported the grant in June, said he’d heard since then from constituents who were against it.

“We just raised taxes on our citizens, and what we are effectively doing for this business is drop its tax rate for the next three years,” he said. “We’ve got to find a way to turn off the spigot.”

Board Chair Pat Cotham, a Democrat, said she had thought about voting against the incentives, too, for the same reason. In the end, she voted for it.

Democratic commissioner Trevor Fuller, a strong supporter of providing incentives to Cedar Fair, said the county is working to build its tourism and needs destination projects.

“I think it’s a good idea to create a destination down there in southwest Mecklenburg,” Fuller said in an interview. “We need things like this – like a Kings Dominion or Busch Gardens – to draw people into the county.”

He said Cedar Fair could have taken its money and expansion opportunities to other states.

“We have to believe them when they say that,” he said.

The expansion, combined with the Charlotte Premium Outlets mall breaking ground Friday, would be a huge draw for that part of the county, he said.

Yet he acknowledged that 15 full-time jobs “and a fair number of seasonal jobs aren’t compelling numbers.”

Fuller said the board’s economic development committee, which he chairs, needs to set higher standards for county incentives to companies.

“We don’t have any form of destination for that part of the county; I wouldn’t call Carowinds a Busch Gardens,” he said. “That’s what the company said they’re going to build. I support the incentives primarily for the tourism it will bring.”

Pearson’s hired for reval redo

To no one’s surprise, commissioners also hired Pearson’s Appraisal Service to conduct the legislative-mandated “review” of Mecklenburg’s flawed 2011 revaluation.

The job will cost Mecklenburg an additional $3.4 million and will take Pearson’s until February 2015 to complete. The law stipulated the county conduct the review within 18 months. The clock began ticking the day the bill was passed in July.

Pearson’s, based in Wilson in eastern North Carolina, clearly had a jump on the one other company that applied for the job. It was first hired by Mecklenburg in July 2012 after the revaluation two years ago triggered a flood of protests and appeals.

The company found dozens of major and minor flaws. That led to state legislation in July that requires the county to review the values of each of Mecklenburg’s 356,000 parcels by neighborhood.

As neighborhoods are completed, refunds will go to overbilled taxpayers who paid 2011 bills.

Perlmutt: 704-358-5061
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