Malheur County intends to buy this 290-acre parcel north of Nyssa for a rail shipping center and a county-built industrial park. (The Enterprise/file)
Costs and transparency in county government marked many of the comments left by those taking the Malheur Enterprise survey on industrial development.
The survey asked: What issue, concern, or question would you like the Malheur County commissioners to publicly address?
More than 100 people responded to that question.
Here is a sampling of their comments:
· How much exactly is this going to cost the communities?
· Do not want this funded by property tax money!
· Justify your needs for more money by breaking down where the money will specifically be spent.
· The uncertainty of where the money drain will stop as well as the fact that the economic development office has not been honest about projects (car wash).
· Where does the money come from, and what other needed expenditures might be sidelined because of this project?
· Where the funding is coming from and if it is a debt of Malheur County, how will it affect property taxes in the county?
· How is the money going to be paid back, how and when?
· Where will the money come from and how much will it cost Malheur County tax payers to supply growers/shippers the ability to improve their business?
· How are the public funds to buy/build/operate the industrial park going to generated and what is the true cost to the taxpayers?
· I would like to see pro forma financials that predict when the project will break even and make a profit / ROI that could be used to pay the county back.
· How long will the state income tax rebate from the jobs that may or may not come take to pay off the $14 million dollar loan. I know Greg [Smith] say this industry standard, but if we are putting up $14 million dollars shouldn’t we know who we are building for?
· Estimated pay back plan on the additional funding. Can they say they are not going to come to the taxpayers to replenish contingency or other funding needs?
· Certainly the project is not getting off to a good start with a big cost overrun on the Farmer / Nyssa Industries land acquisition. And it appears that a noncompetitive, sole source agreement is planned with the preferred facility operator. That hardly bodes well for a reasonable rate of return on a $26 million dollar investment in Malheur County.
· Why is it taking so long? What is holding things up? What is the future revenue and employment potential?
· What business model are they using that it makes sense to pay a 50 percent premium over appraised value and succeed?
· How they will fund it without raising taxes or using county funds?
· The two business plans I have read have both been wrong. As of this year, there is supposed to be lease money incoming. There isn't. Job numbers and costs have not matched, and we don't hear about it timely from the county. I would not buy a ranch pickup on a "trust me" basis. I'd want a look at the Blue Book value and warranties, and customer reputation before I made that kind of decision. Cost overruns and "we'll take it from your savings account" dealing are unacceptable. To get this back on track, I want a full, public audit from the secretary of state’s office with a focus on accountability. It's not a bad idea at the heart of it, but it's a pig in a poke and the handshake deals regrettably are not reliable. Then I want a financial plan and bond program, and to see the marketing plan and pre-commitments for use. We don't have the best reputatoin for integrity right now, and we do need the jobs and tax revenue (not raiding). Seventeen jobs at $40 million? I'd rather just set up 300 public service jobs for residents for 10 years rather than put an open checkbook on a crap shoot where the wheel keeps rolling and rules keep changing.
· Why are they paying $1 million more than appraisal and to who are they paying it to? How is the seller involved with the whole project and to the decision makers?
· If the basic questions for this project and business have not been addressed (examples: where the train cars for the produce will come from? If this project is for local businesses, why is there no publicly announced investment from them?), why is money still pouring into the void? No measurable progress after this amount of time could easily imply either ineptitude, or a money siphoning boondoggle.
· If the onion people need a railroad site, they can pay for it themselves. Does not benefit me.
· What businesses do they have lined up for the center? How will the loans be repaid? How will the person running the center get paid?
· Be up-front about all the costs and risk going in to this. This whole thing has been stained with both omissions from the county ec dev association, as well as mischaracterizations. The overpayment of the property, the SPWF [Special Public Works Fund] loan that was not discussed at the beginning, the characterization of the loan being a forgivable loan when it is clearly not. The lack of discussion of the up-ront costs to develop the land to attract investment. Let's have honest projections about what it would take (job creation at necessary wage levels) to repay both the state loan and the development costs we'll need to use on that land to get it business-ready. We hear we will be made whole, but I want to see the scenarios that it would take to make us whole through the RSIS. Because with my back-of-the-napkin math it would take a LONG time and a whole bunch of jobs. If the county and public know the FULL RISK and costs going in, and weigh that against the potential benefit and still decide to move forward, great. But we haven't had anything close to a full picture on this.
· When will you consent to act in a transparent manner?
· Why are they so secretive about this project with the public and why is Greg Smith allowed so much power with county finances when he doesn't live in Malheur county?
· What are the true costs facing Malheur County in developing the reload center? Why do the commissioners and Greg Smith appear to be hiding the real facts about developing the reload center? Why should the public believe anything that Greg Smith declares as factual?
· Why did they hide from the taxpayers and voters of Malheur County the true estimate of building this facility? Why after learning the true appraisals of the land in question are they going to use taxpayers funds and not the farmers using this facility?
· Growth and economic revitalization for the county (esp. Nyssa) is great, but...my concern is, why aren't all the 'cards' put on the table?? It seems like the whole story or 'plan' is presented in pieces. Maybe not even presented...more like uncovered.
· I am deeply concerned with regard to the numerous and flagrant conflicts of interest among those individuals promoting these proposals.
· Better accessibility to public meetings. The website is confusing and I don’t understand why they have two meetings.
· I think the majority of citizens were behind this until it turned into a cluster. If all were above board you wouldn't be having this problem. Keep the citizens informed or it is a crime.
· Lack of transparency in dealing with economic issues.
· Why was the public lied to when they were told that the transload facility and development would not cost Malheur Country taxpayers anything?
· Why does it seem taxpayers are being kept in the dark about this issue ? Is it or is it not our tax dollars you folks are freely spending? Why is Greg Smith seemingly not accountable to we the taxpayers of Malheur County?
· Just be honest with taxpayers. Nothing seems to be transparent.
· Lack of transparency by evading or not answering questions. County "leaders" ARE responsible to the taxpayers as that is where the funds come from for any county activity. Maybe a referendum to stop the project is in order since the commissioners want to personally financially benefit and do not want any input from the citizenry. The word 'fraud' comes to mind.
· More transparency is needed. Citizens need to be fully informed on how this will benefit the county. How much is Greg Smith going to get out of this. How much will county commissioners benefit?
VOTE ON FUNDING
· I think that the money the county has to raise should be brought before the voters. Why are we paying a lot more money for the property than it’s been appraised for? I was first led to believe the money to do this was going to be a grant. The extra $14 million now sounds like very poor planning or someone trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the county residents.
· I support the idea of an industrial park, but the voters need to be involved in the process.
· Why circumvent the voters?
· Where will the funds come from and if they are coming from taxpayers, shouldn't they be given a choice in the matter?
· The people should have an option to vote.
· Let voters approve any new taxation.
· That the county should provide a detailed accounting to the public of how the money is going to be used if the citizens approve it. Also why wasn't a petition made and brought before the people of this county to be voted on?
· Why can't taxpayers decide yes or no?
· Stop taking action to spend county monies without voter approval and without complete transparency.
· Why is there a complete lack of transparency? It appears we have back room dealings and a "good old boy" network of overpaid incompetent arrogant officials. Let them put on a suit and tie and they think they’re above the common man.
· Quite unfortunate that the county is purchasing the Farmer / Nyssa Industries for much higher than its appraised value. It is normal when an appraisal comes in low, it’s a big green light for buyer and seller to renegotiate the sales price. Apparently the purchase agreement did not contain any contingency clauses related to the appraisal. Just not a very good job of protecting state and county funds. I also have some concerns about the makeup of the board, it’s predominantly onion shippers. That’s the group that will benefit the most from a trans modal facility and an obvious conflict of interest exists between building their own business versus protecting public funds. The commissioners really need to get a handle on this and insure that multiple interests are represented on the board and based on what I’ve seen, experience in project management, procurement and contract framing would be very useful at this stage in the project.
· Twenty or so years ago Ontario tried to create an industrial park near the airport. It flopped. How does Dan [Joyce] figure he is going to fare better with this project that is off all the transportation arteries?
· What's the county doing in a business? If it's needed a private group would be doing it.
· What, specifically, is their vision for a potential industrial park, and what evidence do you have that it would come to fruition if the land were there?
· This project has not been thought out well. It seems to be a "build it and they will come" idea of Greg Smith. Very speculative!!!
· The county is in direct competition with free enterprise and clueless on how to develop such a project without overpaying for thing such as real estate price gouging. They need not be in the railcar leasing business either.
· How will this improve the economic growth in both Malheur and Canyon counties?