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Popular mythology

While the article "On the Horns of a Dilemma in Durham" [Jan. 17] accurately documented the various funding options currently on the table to pay for new schools and other public facilities in Durham County, it contained a misstatement that bears correction. The article states "some industrial properties, such as those located in Research Triangle Park, are exempt from property taxes." Nothing could be further from the truth.

The two top taxpayers in Durham are IBM and Glaxo-Wellcome (now GlaxoSmithKline). IBM and Glaxo pay approximately $6 million and $5.3 million respectively in annual property taxes to Durham County. The No. 4 taxpayer in Durham is Nortel Networks, and it pays $2.2 million in property taxes. All three companies are located in Research Triangle Park, and combined these companies contribute more than $13 million annually to Durham County's coffers. Given that total property tax collections in 1999-2000 for Durham County amounted to $112 million, one finds that just three companies in RTP provide approximately 10 percent of Durham County's total property tax revenues.

There are more than 100 private busi- nesses in the Durham County section of the Research Triangle Park, and all of them pay property taxes to Durham County at the rate of .9297 cents per $100 assessed value--the same rate that all homeowners pay, plus businesses have to pay property tax on their personal property as well. For some unknown reason, it is a part of the popular mythology that businesses, especially those in Research Triangle Park, do not pay their fair share of taxes. Such demagoguery generates far more heat than light as Durham County residents and Durham's elected leaders deliberate the best way to increase taxes in order to pay for necessary government projects.

Minced words

The picture of Sue Coe's depiction of the Imperial Foods plant in Hamlet, which appeared in the Jan. 24 Independent as part of an article highlighting an exhibit of Sue's work on display at the Ackland Art Museum in Chapel Hill, gives rise to the repeated need for some clarification, since the media generated a number of misperceptions at the time of the disaster.

The Imperial Foods plant in Hamlet, North Carolina, was not a "chicken processing plant" such as that depicted in Sue Coe's artwork. The State does indeed have plants such as those owned and operated by Perdue and Holly Farms. All of North Carolina's "chicken processing plants" had been inspected by the state's OSHA inspectors prior to the Hamlet fire as a result of a "special emphasis" inspection program initiated and conducted by the state-administered OSHA program.

The Imperial Foods plant was a "food processing" plant where pre-processed chicken fingers were fried, seasoned, packaged and frozen for delivery to restaurants and fast food establishments. While it was not listed in the directory of food processing plants, or any other kind of business, from which random inspections were scheduled because its owners had illegally failed to register it with the Secretary of State's office, it nevertheless had the presence both the day before and the day of the disastrous fire of two inspectors of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

As a result of the Hamlet fire, the North Carolina Department of Labor proceeded immediately to adopt additional OSHA standards that made such unsafe building conditions a part of the state's set standards. This was done so that these kinds of conditions could be cited, could be required to be repaired, and could be the subject of fines in the future. Upon taking office in 1993, Commissioner of Labor Harry Payne repealed these new standards. Moreover, North Carolina's new commissioner of labor appears to have no interest in re-adopting such standards and even appears to be committed to further reducing those we now have.

Today, the state of North Carolina is in exactly the same posture it was in when the Hamlet fire occurred. From this perspective, I applaud the statement that Sue Coe is otherwise making in her artwork.

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