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Economic group request falls flat with city council

City won’t commit money to countywide group without business plan

News editor

Hillsboro won’t give $44,500 to the new county economic development corporation until someone can spell out how the money will be used and how the city would benefit.

That was the message council members gave to Marion County Economic Development Corp. chairman Russell Groves at last week’s meeting.

“They don’t want to just throw money in a pot and say, ‘It’s there; go do what you want with it,’” city administrator Larry Paine said.

Hillsboro was the final potential funding partner approached by the development corporation after it secured five-year commitments from the county, Marion, and Peabody totaling $1,172,500.

In prepared remarks to the council, Groves apologized for putting the city off.

“Whether by personality conflict or poor decisions by our board, we have failed to approach you respectfully and ask for this conversation,” he said. “This isn’t how neighbors should treat each other. We did not intend to give offense. I am personally sorry if we did so.”

Groves said the development corporation intended to target such things as retention and growth of existing businesses, attracting new employers, and in skilled trades for workforce development. He said the group’s efforts would complement Hillsboro’s own economic development efforts.

Groves asked the council to consider giving $44,500 a year for five years, the same as Marion’s commitment.

However, Paine and the council wanted to see more specific plans for how the money would be spent and how their investment would benefit the city.

“He gave us a little more detail about what they plan,” Paine said. “But in my view, it was not enough to give the city council comfort that the funds that might come from the city of Hillsboro were adequately planned.

“They have the sense every dollar we raise in property tax should go for specific purposes for which we get benefit. Without that plan, there’s no obvious benefit being presented.”

Groves said the meeting was a good first step.

“What I intended to do with them was to open a conversation,” he said. “I needed to make sure that they understood that we respect them and we want their participation. What I didn’t want to do was to march in there and lecture them and give them a one-way presentation.”

The delay in approaching the council and the time needed to address the council’s request for more information could sink any chance of funding for 2018.

“It’s going to take some work in order to find a spot for it,” Paine said. “If there’s going to be an expenditure in 2018 for economic development, it needs to be in the budget that I’m presenting to the council next Tuesday. We’re having a public hearing on Aug. 1. At that point, I cannot raise the budget; I can only lower it.”

Groves said he would try to put together a more detailed business plan as quickly as possible.

“It’s going to take a little bit of packaging, but I intend to get it to them,” he said. “Given the budgeting process, I don’t know if this is going to work for them to join us financially. I know they’re joining us aspirationally.”

Paine agreed.

“That’s pretty much a fair assessment,” he said. “They’d like to be able to cooperate with this program, they’d like to be involved. They’d like to know the money they’re contributing is going to a particular master plan.”

In other business:

  • Economic development director Anthony Roy described the city’s upcoming participation in First Impressions, a program through Kansas State University. Teams of volunteers from Hillsboro and Council Grove will visit each other’s community to compile information about how first-time visitors might view them.
  • Acting as the public building commission, members decided to accelerate payments on city pool bonds by using $530,000 that has accumulated in a fund for that purpose. Doing so could allow the city to retire a half-cent sales tax one to three years earlier than its scheduled sunset in 2025.

Last modified July 12, 2017

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