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Council set to hire development staff

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A strategy that combines support for both traditional businesses and nontraditional efforts allowed most Village Council members to find common ground regarding how best to pursue Village economic development at Council’s meeting Monday, June 15. Council voted 4–1 to begin the process necessary for hiring a parttime economic development director/coordinator, with Kathryn Van der Heiden, John Booth, Judith Hempfling and Karen Wintrow voting for the motion and Lori Askeland voting against.

“I’m looking at this as a business advocate as much as an economic development person,” Wintrow said, regarding the new position. “We have traditional companies we need to nurture and grow, and we have other nontraditional people we need to support.” The combination of both traditional and innovative economic efforts, she said, “is what will create a rich and interesting environment in Yellow Springs.”

The motion to begin the process to hire someone had been introduced by Kathryn Van der Heiden. The motion requests that Village Manager Mark Cundiff further refine a profile that identifies the future employee’s responsibilities and a draft budget, incorporating Council members’ suggestions. He will present the document at Council’s next meeting.

The discussion was the fourth in a series of recent Council discussions on economic development. In previous discussions, Hempfling had opposed hiring a staff person, citing the cost, which Cundiff had identified in a draft budget as being more than $100,000 in both annual and startup costs for a three-day-a-week employee. At Monday’s meeting, he presented a second draft budget, citing $71,000 in annual costs for an employee, about $10,000 in discretionary costs and about $32,000 in program one-time costs.

Rather than hiring an employee, Hempfling had in a previous meeting suggested creating a citizen task force to oversee economic development efforts.

At the beginning of Monday’s discussion, Askeland cited the cost of an employee and recent research that indicates ED employees often do not pay for themselves as why she remained opposed to hiring someone. Askeland said she preferred having Cundiff act as point person for development efforts and hiring consultants to perform specific tasks.

But the Village is missing out on many opportunities by not having an economic development staff person, according to Van der Heiden, who identified procuring stimulus funds as one of those missed opportunities.

While Hempfling stated that the cost of a staff person remains a concern to her, she now favors hiring someone, partly so that the Village has a better chance of procuring stimulus funds. According to Hempfling, she feels more comfortable about hiring an employee now that she and Wintrow together drafted a proposal to establish a Village Economic Sustainability Board, which they presented at the June 15 meeting.

According to the Wintrow/Hempfling proposal, the new board would serve as a forum for the sharing of ideas for new businesses and help to develop strategies for increased cooperation and networking. It would focus on areas of village strengths, including education, green energy and building, the arts, health and wellness and information technology, among others.

While Council members did not discuss the proposal for the new board at the meeting, they expressed support for it, and said they would discuss it at their July 6 meeting.

Two villagers who spoke encouraged Council to focus on local strengths when pursuing economic development efforts.

“We want to tap into our community’s resources,” said Kathleen Boutis. “If we hire someone, make sure they’re working with those resources.”

Dimi Reber encouraged Council to view economic development as not only increasing the tax base of the Village, but also looking for businesses that increase the overall welfare of the village.

Villagers Pat Murphy and Joan Edwards encouraged Council to move quickly to hire someone.

“We’re losing businesses every day,” Murphy said. “We need a professional person.”

At issue is how the Village will use the $150,000 in the 2009 budget for economic development. That revenue came from three years of a $50,000 yearly earmark for economic development included in the 2006 five-year property tax levy, which has so far been unused. The Village will have had $250,000 in all for economic development when the levy expires in 2011.

Other business from the June 15 meeting will be covered in next week’s News.

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