Berkeley County, which has already supplied Google with millions of dollars in tax breaks, needs to protect taxpayers in negotiating a deal with the secretive tech giant to on another expansion at its data center near Moncks Corner.
Google, which owns about 500 acres off Highway 52, wants an unspecified property tax break in return for the estimated $600 million expansion of its server farm — warehouses filled with computers. That’s a big outlay, but it will mostly benefit Google, not taxpayers who deserve to know how much tax revenue the county would be forfeiting.
Berkeley County Council has a responsibility to negotiate the best deal possible on behalf of its taxpayers, and it should refuse any open-ended property tax breaks without knowing exactly what it will get in return. And Google, one the world’s richest companies, should be willing to publicly make its case for why it shouldn’t pay its fair share of property taxes.
Google has previously been granted incentives, including sales tax exemptions for the purchase of computing hardware and electricity usage, as well as a break on property taxes. In 2007, Google reportedly agreed to pay an annual $1.96 million fee in lieu of property taxes based on its initial investment. At the time, Google said the fee could amount to $58.8 million over the 30-year life of the deal.
So it’s only fair for the public to know what the newly proposed property tax breaks would be worth and what Berkeley County would be getting in return. Google, like other big tech players, has been anything but open about its negotiations here and for other data centers.
A 2016 study by subsidy tracker Good Jobs First found that incentives granted data centers can cost up to $2 million for every job created. It suggested capping subsidies at $50,000 per job created to make sure taxpayers break even.
Yes, Google has been a good corporate citizen, giving away some 14,000 Chromebook computers to students, setting up free Wi-Fi systems, giving to Lowcountry charities and supporting the arts. But those good deeds shouldn’t cloud the issue.
Google would have at least a decade to complete the expansion under the terms of the deal, but it has refused to disclose details about the expansion until the county grants the property tax break. That’s a black box that County Council should reject outright. And if Google won’t negotiate, it can expand elsewhere.
There’s also the issue of water use. Google has been silent about its deferred request to pump an additional 1.5 million gallons of water daily from an important Lowcountry aquifer. Will that be part of the deal?
Berkeley County’s government exists for the benefit of its citizens, not Google. County Council should stand up to this Goliath on behalf of taxpayers, reject any nondisclosure agreements and demand that it be allowed due diligence before agreeing to forego property taxes.