There have been letters to the editor regarding the influx of military employees that have generated a visceral reaction.
I also have heard various reactions to this change in the community. I have heard one neighbor lamenting the increasing visibility of the military here even though he is military himself.
I can attest to the radical change in the number of military residents. During our first 16 years here, we knew one active-duty military person. By our return to the county in 2016, everything had changed. In Southern Pines, we were surrounded by military families pushing baby strollers instead of middle-aged golfers shopping.
Having left Southern Pines to go to work in city management in Fayetteville, I am familiar with the consequences of living in a military town and aware of the unique challenges of its population and economy. I also was exposed to the situation of having a community where the largest employer and its employees provided little community leadership commensurate with its impact on the economy and community demographics.
So upon my return to Moore County, I had qualms about the military influx. However, the recent string of letters to the editor has helped clarify my analysis of the situation.
First, I think we need to remove emotion from this discussion and stop the comments denigrating people with whom we disagree.
Second, in order to remove emotion, I would eliminate the word “military” from the discussion. What Moore County is experiencing is a transition of our local population and economy.
Previously, we were a community that drew in commuters. Now we are becoming a bedroom community for a large noncounty employer.
We were a community to which people in their later years moved, bringing with them a lifetime of accumulated assets. Not only did they enrich the community with those financial and leadership assets, but they also did little to increase demand for local governmental services. Most notably, they did not bring school-aged children.
Now we have much younger people moving here without significant assets and often with multiple children to educate. These new homes they’re buying do not generate enough tax revenue to pay for the services that are required by their residents (and federal aid for military students only amounts to $189 per student per year).
This fiscal imbalance would not be a problem if the new residents were working at employers in the county who were contributing to the county’s tax base. Typically, commercial/industrial property generates tax revenues far in excess of its demands for services thereby offsetting the reverse situation with residential development.
And here we arrive at, what is for me, the crux of the issue: if Moore County continues to develop as a bedroom community, the tax burden on existing residents will continually increase.
That is the negative impact that I see from the influx coming from our east. It’s not about the addition of younger people to the county, not the increase in breweries which I, as a non-drinker, will never patronize, not even necessarily the transitory nature of some of the new residents’ tenure in the county (though I still have lingering suspicions that this is not a positive attribute).
Rather if we continue to have over three quarters of new construction consisting of residential development, we are all going to pay a significant price. We can, however, do something about this imbalance if we can develop the political will to invest in much more significant economic development activities.
Unfortunately our county is not investing much more today than it did 20 years ago in economic development to build our tax base and reduce the tax burden on our residents. By and large, most of the county commissioners do not seem to see the fiscal train wreck coming if we continue on this path.
To change direction will require that the county invest significantly more money into building capacity. This could entail funding construction of a center for entrepreneurs to developing sites suitable for industry to working to attract more businesses like GolfPride.
All of this takes money now in order to pay dividends in the future. And it is up to you: are you willing to create the political support for acting now to build our future economy and tax base? Or are you just going to kvetch about the military influx while doing nothing to build a more diverse economy and population for Moore County’s future? The choice is yours.