This week a critical decision could come from the N.C. General Assembly that will affect nearly every town and city in North Carolina: Budget negotiators will determine whether to extend the state's historic rehabilitation tax credit program.
The current historic rehabilitation tax credit has been in existence for about 15 years and has played a critical role in keeping my town of Edenton, in rural northeastern North Carolina, a vibrant and thriving community. Thanks to the tax credit, two of Edenton's oldest and largest industrial buildings, once vacant and in states of decline, have been reborn and are now major contributors to Edenton's economy.
Around the end of 1995, the Edenton Cotton Mill closed. Most of the 40 or so nearby mill houses had already been boarded up. This 44-acre industrial complex, two blocks from Historic Edenton's downtown, was on the verge of blight. The vacant mill and mill houses had a total tax value of $1.45 million. Thanks to the tax credit program, today over 40 restored mill worker houses and 30 hip, urban condos have transformed this severely distressed neighborhood into a thriving neighborhood that has a cumulative assessed tax value estimated to exceed $20 million.
The Edenton Peanut Mill, built in 1909, had been vacant for almost 50 years. It was rehabilitated by a father and son team in 2006, thanks to the tax credit program. The repurposed building, now the home of thriving businesses, contributes much needed property taxes to the town and Chowan County. More importantly, it contributes to the town's economic and social fabric. An accounting firm that employs over 30 people, a barge operator and a fitness center today occupy the mill.
There are other old, vacant buildings in this historic town, which was founded in 1712 and served as the first Colonial capital until 1743. Town and county leaders are working hard to attract developers, but chances of investment in old buildings will be dramatically reduced if the tax credits are off the table. The town also has an inventory of historic houses that stand a much better chance of being rehabilitated if the tax credit program is preserved. These houses include many in an architecturally significant historic African-American neighborhood.
Small rural towns like Edenton are fighting hard to keep our communities economically viable. The Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit program is a mighty strong weapon that North Carolina towns and cities have in their arsenal in this fight. It's a weapon we need state legislators to save.
Roland Vaughan has been mayor of Edenton
for 18 years.