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Council begins talk on economic development

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Should the Village of Yellow Springs move ahead quickly to hire an economic development staff person, or should Council members take the time to clarify, with the community, what sort of development they want before hiring someone?

This question was considered at the April 6 Village Council meeting, during which several Council members disagreed on the best way forward. At the meeting several villagers expressed their desire to be included in the economic development process.

April 6 was the first time Council had specifically discussed how to move ahead on economic development, and the topic was discussion only, with no action taken. Council will revisit the topic at its May 4 meeting.

The 2006 property tax levy, which went into effect in 2007, included $50,000 annually for economic development. While the previous Council expressed interest in pursuing economic development, the departure of former Village Manager Eric Swansen and the new manager search last year slowed the process. Because Council has not yet addressed economic development, the money has accumulated, and the 2009 Village budget has $150,000 for economic development efforts.

One of Council’s six 2009 goals is to “establish a plan that improves the economic condition of the community.” In a recent meeting, Council approved several subgoals toward that goal, including to develop a plan on economic development as a part of the visioning process; to determine how best to use the economic development funds in consultation with villagers; to begin working on a possible levy renewal; to continue to support Business First retention efforts; and to identify and assist, as appropriate, with marketing land available for development, especially the Center for Business and Education and Vernay properties.

Many volunteer economic development efforts are under way, according to Council member Karen Wintrow, who cited the Chamber of Commerce, of which she is executive director, Community Resources, and the Yellow Springs Arts Council as groups that already focus on economic development in the village. However, she said, because these groups are staffed mainly by volunteers, they may not have the time or energy to do the work of a paid employee.

“We’re reaching the point when a lot of opportunities aren’t moving forward because there isn’t the staff person,” she said, stating that the Village hiring an economic development worker “is the next step in doing this work.”

The question of how soon to hire a staff person provoked the most discussion at the April 6 meeting.

Council member Kathryn Van der Heiden urged Council to move ahead soon, stating that not hiring someone in the near future would be “building a sense of ire in those who want to move ahead,” and that the village has done enough talking on the topic.

But Council President Judith Hempfling emphasized the need to clarify what sort of development best suits the village, and to include citizens in that process.

The specific economic development model used “will shape the community,” Hempfling said. Council and villagers “need to provide direction to the economic development person rather than the other way around.” She recommended that Council appoint a committee of citizens to aid Council in its development efforts.

Council also needs to be careful that economic development efforts are transparent, according to Council member Lori Askeland, who said that Council needs to make sure that an economic development staff person “represents the village as a whole and not just powerful people.”

Villagers who spoke emphasized the need for transparency and involvement of a diverse group of people in making economic development plans.

“We as average citizens don’t feel we have a voice in what the economic development future will be like,” said Kathleen Boutis, who urged Council to develop a “vehicle for communication” so that citizens feel they have opportunities for input into the process.

Involving citizens in the process and moving ahead with hiring a staff person soon may not be mutually exclusive, several villagers said. Having a committee of villagers interested in economic development could give the staff person additional assistance, according to Ali Thomas.

Others encouraged Council to move ahead with the hiring, including Ellen Hoover, board member of the Chamber of Commerce, who as the former economic development director for Springfield, said “98 percent of the job is responding to the business community.”

“I would take what you already know and get started,” she said.

The Village should consider having a municipal fiber optic network such as Fiber to the Home, said Tim Noble, information technology coordinator for the Nonstop Institute. A relatively new technology, Fiber to the Home is a network of fiber optic cables that is owned and managed by the municipality, according to information submitted to Council. Federal stimulus money would likely be available for such a venture, Noble said, stating that if Antioch College is revived, the college will need more broadband.

There is interest among those working to revive Antioch College in providing space for a business incubator, according to Benji Maruyama, who also encouraged Council to use a portion of the economic development money to fund incentives to attract new businesses.

Council requested that Village manager Mark Cundiff flesh out different options for the hiring of an economic development staff person for the May 4 meeting. At that meeting, representatives of groups already working with economic development, including the Chamber of Commerce and Community Resources, will be asked to present information on their current efforts.

• In other Village business, Council gave final approval to an ordinance that sets rates for the Gaunt Park pool. The fees are largely the same as last year, with no charge for children under 4, resident passes for $60 for children up to 18, and $90 for adults.

Changes this year are single admission fees of $3 for children up to age 18, reduced from last year’s fee of $3.75. The pool this year for the first time will charge a reduced rate for seniors 62 and over. Seniors will pay $3 for single admission and $60 for a season pass.

Single admission fees for adults under 62 will be $5, slightly higher than last year’s fee of $4.75. A household season pass costs $105 for up to five family members, with $10 for each additional member.

Swimming lessons will be free for local children, and $10 for nonresidents.

The pool will be open daily from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., with lap swims from noon to 1 p.m. on weekends and 7–8 p.m. daily.

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