Publisher's Note: This article originally appeared in the Beaufort Observer.
The greatest cost of building a new jail at this time is the opportunity costs. A new school would be a much better use of this money and property than building a jail.
In Part I of this series
on the Economic Impact of Building a New Jail we looked at the immediate impact on downtown Washington. The potential impact of pulling the 80 +/- jobs connected to the jail out of downtown Washington would be bad. But the ultimate impact of moving much of the "justice system" out of Washington would be devastating to the downtown.
In Part II we focused
on the macro-economic impact of the Giant Sucking Sound of pulling ten million dollars out of the local economy every year for twenty years. Coupled with the other millions this same group of politicians have wasted and it becomes clearer why Beaufort County is a Tier I county (poor).
In this installment of the series we look at what is arguably the most significant cost of building a new jail at this point in time. That is the "opportunity costs."
Opportunity costs is the concept that most local governments have finite resources. If they use resources for one thing they cannot use those resources for something else. So it becomes an issue of if you spend for A, and know the consequences A will produce, then you must compare what the consequences would likely have been had you spent your resources for B.
In this case one of the most significant facts to consider is what a jail produces. It does produce some jobs. The initial construction produces jobs, but of course those disappear shortly. It does produce jobs of the staff that operates the jail. But beyond those limited impacts a jail is not an economic engine in any local economy. Arguably it consumes more than it produces, thus rendering its impact that of a liability rather than an asset.
But a full appreciation of the economic impact must consider what the community could have done with that money it spent on a jail and the infrastructure to support a jail. In this case there are two very significant opportunity costs.
The first is the cost of sewer.
The parcel of land they are proposing to build the jail on is a mile south of Chocowinity on U. S. 17. That is where Harding Road intersects with U. S. 17. The land is known as the Chocowinity Industrial Park. When this same group of commissioners, for the most part, bought the land they extoled it for its superb industrial prospects. Of course, it is reasonable to assume that a jail on part of that site will likely hamper the remainder of the site attracting high quality industry and may indeed pretty much decimate the potential this site was said to offer. Simply put, a jail is certainly not the "highest and best use" of this property. How much this opportunity cost will be is hard to quantify, but common sense would say it is significant.
That parcel of land is served by a new sewer line extension from the Town of Chocowinity. The line is designed to service the Industrial Park and a new rest area the state is building across the road. Thus, the potential this sewer line would present for economic development is mitigated or lost by the consumption of that resource for a jail. The cost of the utility extension will pale in comparison to the lost economic impact of the "industrial park" either/both as a magnet for development or the value of the property if it were put on the market and sold for private development. At least at some point in the future.
But one can argue that the "highest and best use" of this parcel of land, with the sewer availability, would be as a school site.
Chocowinity Middle School is located within a mile of the parcel. CMS is overcrowded and in the worst shape of any, perhaps save one, school in the county. Also located within approximately a mile of the site is Chocowinity Primary School, the most overcrowded school in the county and the fastest growing of most of the county's schools. In short, there is an immediate and urgent need for a new middle school in the Chocowinity attendance area, and a need to relieve the overcrowding, current and future, at Chocowinity Primary School. This site offers the best potential for doing both of these things.
But the 20-30 million dollars that would be spend on a jail would go a long way in providing more suitable school facilities for the fastest growing segment of the county.
In recent years Chocowinity has been the only bright spot in the county's economy. This has been the result of residential development in that part of the county. And the potential is even much greater than what has been the actual situation in a depressed economy.
One has to assume that the economy will eventually improve. Growth can be expected in the Chocowinity area. Much of this growth potential is tied to residential developments that have residents who work in Greenville.
If one looks at other urban areas in North Carolina you see the future of Beaufort County. Adjoining counties to urban areas is where the growth is. And a prime reason for the explosion of residential growth in places like Franklin, Johnston, Chatham - adjacent to Wake - and Union, Cabarrus and Gaston counties adjacent to Mecklenburg is the pattern of people wanting to live outside the urban counties where they work. They would rather commute a few extra miles than to live in a congested urban area. But the real magnet in places like Youngsville, Clayton, Monroe etc. is the schools.
Most urban school systems are in decline. They suffer from bad student assignment issues. Pitt is no exception. Desirable schools in the western portion of Beaufort County would undoubtedly attract young families to live in Beaufort while they work in Greenville. It is, in fact, a shorter drive time-wise from Chocowinity to the Vidant/ECU medical complex than it is from large areas of Pitt County.
But such residential grow requires attractive schools.
That is where the opportunity cost of this parcel of land comes in. A new middle school and even a new elementary school is a much "higher and better" use of the property than a jail. New schools would spur residential growth. The existing overcrowded primary and middle school will only suppress that growth potential.
The Town of Chocowinity faces a very real dilemma. Is it going to support a jail and lose or severely delay the opportunity this parcel of land offers or is it going to seize the opportunity to have nice schools to support what could be the most significant economic growth possibility we will see in our life times? Is the county going to realize that spending this 20-30 million dollars on schools would produce multiples more revenue over the next twenty years from enhanced residential growth that would come from nice schools? And of course that residential growth produces commercial development.
Spending 30 million dollars on schools rather than a jail is like planting seeds, while spending it on a jail is like digging a hole and burying it. And most of us know what the Bible had to say about such use of talents. It was true two thousand years ago and it is true today. Beaufort County and the Town of Chocowinity would be better to use this parcel of land for schools than use it for a jail. The economic cost of not doing so and making the wrong choice here is mind boggling.
Why do temporary classrooms exist in Chocowinity?