Council gives CBE final approval
- Published: July 17, 2014
At Monday’s meeting, Village Council in a 3–2 vote gave final approval to funding the Center for Business and Education infrastructure. Karen Wintrow, Gerry Simms and Brian Housh voted for the CBE funding and Lori Askeland and Marianne MacQueen voted against.
The vote allows the Village manager to pursue funding options for the CBE for which the Village will borrow about $1 million. It also allows a referendum effort to begin on the project, which has proved controversial since municipal funding was requested by the CBE backer, Community Resources, early last fall.
That community divide was apparent in Monday’s meeting, attended by about 40 villagers, with several speaking for and several against the CBE funding. However, fewer spoke to the issue than in recent meetings and several Council members highlighted the importance of the referendum in determining the community’s will.
“It’s time for the community to tell us which way they want us to go,” Simms said.
In voting for the CBE funding, Karen Wintrow said she believes she is helping Yellow Springs move ahead on priorities established in the 2010 visioning effort.
“I do believe we have a vision,” Wintrow said of the visioning goal of pursuing economic development based on the value of sustainability. Wintrow defined sustainability as “living and working in the same community,” and said she believes the CBE will offer job opportunities that allow more villagers to work in town.
In the works for 15 years, the CBE, located on the western edge of town, is a 35-acre commerce park intended to bring to town new businesses or allow existing businesses to expand. It was created by the volunteer group Community Resources, which purchased the CBE land in 2004 with a $300,000 loan from the Village Economic Development Revolving Loan fund, plus $100,000 from the Yellow Springs Community Foundation. The group obtained federal and state grants for almost $1 million to build the CBE infrastructure, but a significant portion of the funding was lost last year due to project delays. At that point, CR leaders asked the Village to step in to help fund the project, which is estimated to cost about $80,000 yearly for 20 years to pay off the bond issuance.
That ongoing financial commitment led to her vote against the funding, according to MacQueen, who cited the Village’s current deficit spending in its operating budget. While MacQueen said she favors “setting aside space for economic development,” she also cited the lack of a CBE business plan and a Village economic plan as further reasons for her no vote.
“I’m not comfortable right now putting money into this project,” she said.
Askeland agreed with MacQueen, while also emphasizing that the CBE supporters are people with good intentions.
“Allegations of corruption are not true and not helpful,” Askeland said.
While the group organizing the referendum, Yellow Springs for Sustainable Development, opposes the CBE, they also emphasized the good intentions of all involved.
“Good people are on both sides of this issue,” Chrissy Cruz said. “The most important thing is to remain a community of mindful people living together and trying to do the right thing.”
Other group members are Kate Hamilton, Dawn Johnson, Christine Roberts and Taki Manolakos.
Also speaking against the CBE funding was villager Tony Absi, who said, “If Community Resources wants to develop this land, they should use their own money, not the taxpayers’.”
Anna McClure urged Council to “exercise extreme caution” and expressed her concern that the CBE “does not make good business sense.”
And Dawn Johnson cited a long-standing Ohio law that she believes prohibits municipalities from investing in private projects.
“If Community Resources can’t get private developers to back their plan, why should they use public money?” she said.
Speaking for the CBE were several members of Community Resources, including Megan Bachman, who thanked Council for “seeing this through. We’re so close, we’re almost there.” Council’s vote was a smart decision to “not throw away all this momentum and all this money” already spent on the CBE, Bachman said, stating that she hopes the project reverses the current trend of 80 percent of villagers having to work out of town.
Roi Qualls of CR cited his concern with villagers’ growing tax burden and his belief that the CBE will help broaden the tax base.
“Without new businesses taking the place of Vernay and the medical center, it will become less affordable to live here,” he said.
Other items of Council’s June 9 agenda will be covered in next week’s paper.