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Village Council— CBE funding talk continues

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At their Oct. 21 meeting, Village Council members moved ahead with a request from Community Resources to pay $800,000 to finance the infrastructure for the Center for Business and Education, or CBE, but asked for something in return: that Community Resources become a state-designated community improvement corporation, or CIC, which would turn the private nonprofit into a quasi-government group.

“I believe there’s some financial risk here and I’d like to see a string attached,” Council President Judith Hempfling said regarding asking CR to obtain a designated CIC status. “I believe having a designated CIC will contribute to the well-being of the village.”

Council members Lori Askeland, Karen Wintrow, Rick Walkey and Gerry Simms approved a motion requesting that Council and CR begin a discussion on the designated CIC issue. They also approved a motion that asks Village staff to bring back to their next meeting a recommendation of the best way to finance the CBE project.

In September, Community Resources board member Jerry Sutton requested that the Village contribute the $800,000 needed to finish the CBE infrastructure. The industrial park, which has been in the works almost 10 years, has met with many delays and this year lost a significant part of its funding when the Ohio Department of Transportation, or ODOT, withdrew a grant due to the delays. Fearful that the project could lose its second grant of $412,000 from the federal Army Corps of Engineers, Sutton urged the Village to move quickly on the project, which is estimated to cost about $1.2 million to finish. Village employees have been overseeing the CBE process for the past several years.

The federal grant was approved four years ago, and could be pulled unexpectedly, so time is of the essence, according to Sutton.

“Let’s get on with it,” he said.

Also at the Oct. 21 meeting were attorney Margaret Comey from Squire Sanders in Cincinnati and underwriter John Connors from Connors and Company, who provided information on financing options.

The good news is that the Village appears, with a surplus of almost $5 million out of a $12 million budget, to be on solid financial ground, Connors said.

“The Village has been run very well financially,” Connors said. “You haven’t done any unnecessary borrowing, which is good.”

At a September meeting, Comey presented to Council the option of TIFF financing, in which business owners who eventually purchase space in the completed CBE would pay the Village the amount of their property taxes, giving the Village a revenue stream to pay off its loan. However, there would be a several year delay before the properties are sold and TIFF kicks in, so in the meantime the Village would need to borrow money for the project.

Connors suggested that the Village check with local banks to see what financing is available. Because interest rates are likely to remain below five percent, borrowing would make sense, he said.

Interim Manager Kent Bristol encouraged Council to contribute the funds needed to complete the CBE, stating that he suggested a similar project to a previous Council when he was Village manager years ago, but at that point Council had no interest.

“Since then we’ve lost Fels lab, Vernay, Antioch Publishing and Kettering lab, and our industrial base has disappeared,” Bristol said. “I’d like to present the people of Yellow Springs the opportunity to work where they live. I’m an advocate of the CBE. If we’re going to do it, let’s do it now.”

According to former Village Manager Laura Curliss, who attended the meeting as a village resident, an ODOT official has assured her the grant was still available, but to “get the money committed as soon as you can.”

Council members, stating they hope to make the CBE funding decision before a new Council takes office in mid-November, tasked Bristol with identifying best options for financing the project at Council’s Nov. 4 meeting.

Sutton, who attended the Oct. 21 meeting, did not respond at the meeting to Hempfling’s request that Community Resources seek designated CIC status. Council made a similar request of the group three years ago, and CR members did not move forward with the change, which would link the group much more closely with the Village. As a government organization, CR would need to hold its meetings in public, which it currently does not do. Also, Council representatives to the group would be able to vote, which they currently can’t do.

In an interview this week, Hempfling said she suggested that CR become a designated CIC because the group’s focus would then be the economic development of the whole village, rather than only the CBE. The all-volunteer group, founded in 1999 to promote local economic development, has to this point mainly focused on the CBE, which it purchased with $300,000 of Village funds in 2004. It’s conceivable that CBE development could at some point conflict with commerce park development in other parts of the village, such as MillWorks or a planned Antioch College business incubator, according to Hempfling.

“If we’re putting so much public money into the project, I don’t want us to be competing with other local entities,” she said. “Our big commitment is to the whole picture of economic development, not just the CBE. And if it became a designated CIC, the focus of Community Resources would also be the whole village.”

In an interview last week, Sutton said that, speaking for himself rather than for the whole CR board, he is “ready to re-engage” in discussion on the CIC issue. However, the issue is a complicated one, he said, and should not be rushed.

“It’s not a trivial matter,” he said. “It’s not something we can put together in 30 days.”

At Council’s meeting, Council members agreed that they would move ahead with the CBE funding before the designated CIC issue is completed, but that they would like discussions on the issue to begin.

In other Council business:
• Council had a preliminary discussion on the poor street conditions in the Fair Acres neighborhood. Fair Acres residents have petitioned Council in recent months to address the street problems, but the poor condition of the substreet means the fix will be a complicated and costly one, street crew head Jason Hamby has told Council.

At the Oct. 21 meeting, Bristol suggested that Council approve moving ahead with a “band-aid” approach to seal and stabilize the streets, then spend a year looking closely at the problem and a long-range solution.

Regarding funding, Bristol suggested that while the Village has not in recent years assessed residents for infrastructure repairs in their neighborhood, other communities do so, and it might make sense to assess Fair Acres residents for the repairs because the neighborhood is an isolated one without connector roadways. However, several Council members balked at the option of assessing residents.

“To me, this is a village problem, not a neighborhood problem,” Rick Walkey said.

Fair Acres resident Mary Cargan stated that assessing Fair Acres residents would be fair “if all other neighborhoods are also made to pay for their repairs.”

Council stated it would seek more information before moving ahead, but asked Bristol to write a letter to Fair Acre residents saying that the discussion on street conditions has begun.

• Council heard a presentation from Village Water Superintendent Joe Bates and Wayne Cannon of RCAP on Capacity Management, Operation and Maintenance, or CMOM, an asset management program for sanitary sewer systems. A detailed article on the program will appear in an upcoming News.

• Council unanimously approved a request from Antioch College to relocate a directional sign from Xenia Avenue and East North College Street to the northeast corner of Xenia Avenue and East Center College Street. The sign relocation was a recommendation from the accreditation team after a recent visit to the college, when the team followed college signage and promptly got lost, according to Facilities Manager Reggie Stratton.

• Council unanimously approved an ordinance that made the recently revised zoning code effective immediately.

• Council’s next meeting will be Monday, Nov. 4 at Council chambers at the Bryan Community Center.

Contact: dchiddister@ysnews.com

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