Village Council

Loan fund restrictions eased

At their March 7 meeting, members of Village Council took an initial step toward removing the current restriction that prohibits nonprofits from applying for loans from the Village Revolving Loan Fund for Economic Development. The action was sparked by a letter from the YS Kids Playhouse stating its interest in applying for a loan due to a decline in revenues.

The Council voted 3–1 for the first reading of the ordinance to amend the fund, with Judith Hempfling, John Booth and Rick Walkey voting for, and Karen Wintrow voting against. Council member Lori Askeland was absent.

“I like the idea of expanding the scope of the fund,” Walkey said. Speaking in support of YS Kids Playhouse, Booth cited the importance of the nonprofit to the community, especially as a “springboard for many youth into theater.”

Nonprofits should be allowed to apply for fund money since they also provide jobs in the community, Hempfling said. The fund was originally set up to support job creation, either through creating new businesses or expanding already-existing ones.

The March 7 vote only addresses changing the Revolving Loan Fund restrictions, and does not specifically respond to YSKP’s request for funding, Hempfling said. In fact, the theater group has not yet requested a specific amount, only its intention to make a request, she said.

In a written memo to Council, YSKP Creative Director John Fleming cited the recent dissolution of the Learning in the Arts for Children and Youth program of the National Endowment of the Arts as the reason for YSKP’s need for new funding. In previous years, an NEA grant had funded the theater group’s summer program of two original works for theater, as well as a program that trains children in various aspects of theater.

“The use of funds from the loan will provide the YSKP stability in these tumultuous economic times,” Fleming wrote, stating that the nonprofit, with a 2011 budget of $165,000, currently employs two fulltime and two partime employees whose livelihood is in jeopardy, along with an additional 12 artists and production workers during the summer season.

“The staff and board of directors of the YSKP believe that we are of critical value to the quality of life here — as well as of significant economic value for promoting Yellow Springs as a cultural destination,” the memo stated.

The loan fund, initially funded by a federal grant, has been active for several decades. However, in recent years the fund has been largely inactive as its balance, currently almost $30,000, has been low. The balance was much higher until Community Resources received an interest-free $300,000 loan in 2004 for purchase of land for the Center for Business and Education, or CBE. Community Resources representatives have said they intend to repay the loan when the CBE is finished and its occupants purchase property.

The loan committee has also been largely inactive for the past several years, and currently two out of three positions are filled by Ellen Hoover and Emily Siebel. According to Clerk of Council Judy Kintner this week, the committee will reconvene soon.

In casting her vote against the ordinance, Wintrow said she was troubled that the decision to revise the loan fund guidelines is being made by Council without first consulting the loan committee. In response, Hempfling stated that changing the loan fund restrictions is a policy issue, which is appropriate for Council, and emphasized that Council is not making a decision regarding whether to fund the nonprofit.

In other Council business:

• Council continued a discussion on a proposed private solar energy project, as proposed by SolarVision. Village Manager Mark Cundiff reported on a conference call that took place between the Village, the Village’s municipal energy supplier AMP, and representatives of SolarVision, Melink and Yellow Springs Renewables, the three proposed partners in the project.

The conference call discussion included AMP’s recommendation that the maximum amount of energy from the project should be no more than 2 megawatts of solar power, which is a smaller amount than that originally proposed. If the Village chose to install a larger solar installation and resell the unused energy, the Village would face increased expenses and a complicated process for exporting the excess energy.

Also, the call clarified that a load flow study on the Village’s electric system should be completed, and that SolarVision and Melink have offered to split the cost of the study with the Village, with each entity paying one-third.

A longer discussion of the project will take place at Council’s March 21 meeting.

• Council unanimously passed the final reading of the 2011 budget for the Village.

• Council unanimously passed an emergency supplemental appropriations ordinance to the 2011 budget that includes unexpected expenses associated with the recent ice storm.

• Council unanimously passed the first reading of an ordinance that changes the quorum requirement for the Village Economic Sustainability Commission, due to one commission member having left the group.

• Cundiff announced that the Village will continue to pick up limbs and branches from the ice storm left by the curb for another two weeks.

• Wintrow announced the upcoming Yellow Springs Experience Wellness Weekend, to take place March 18–19.

• Agenda items for Council’s March 21 meeting include extended discussions on the solar project and the proposed Cemetery Street affordable housing project. Council will vote on the Memorandum of Understanding, or MOU, for that project.

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