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Village Council — Funding for CBE explored

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At their Nov. 18 meeting, Village Council members agreed to begin exploring options for funding the infrastructure of the Center for Business and Education, or CBE. Specifically, they will vote at their Dec. 2 meeting to untable two resolutions previously tabled by Council that would begin discussions with an underwriter and an expert on bond authorization. The topic was discussion only.

“Voting on both December 2 is not making a commitment but exploring the financial realities of the project,” said Council President Karen Wintrow, who was unanimously elected president at the meeting following the retirement of Judith Hempfling. Lori Askeland was elected vice-president.

Council’s two newly elected members, Marianne MacQueen and Brian Housh, both emphasized that they want more information on the project.

After talking with several villagers with expertise on the issue, MacQueen said the questions she heard most often were, “If we move forward with the funding, what is the role of the Village then, and what is the role of Community Resources?”

“We do need to get more information to make the ultimate decision,” Housh said. “It will take some time.”

The CBE issue came before Council in September, when Jerry Sutton, board member of the economic development group Community Resources, requested that the Village provide $700,000 necessary to finish the infrastructure of the commerce park, which has been in the works for a decade. The request was necessary since the project recently lost a substantial grant due to delays in the project, and Sutton pushed Council to act quickly so that a second federal grant is not lost. The purpose of the project is to provide more jobs in the village.

While Council members did not discuss the CBE proposal in depth, they did hear from several villagers with concerns.

Sue Abendroth urged Council to take on the CBE funding, citing the amount of time and money spent on the project.

“Economic development has always been at the top of the list of what’s needed in this community,” she said, referring to priorities that emerged from community forums and the visioning process in the last few years.

But rather than focus on the money already spent, Council could focus on the $700,000 it would save if it does not fund the project, according to Rebecca Potter, money it could use to promote other ways to enhance economic development. For instance, she said, the newly revised zoning code is designed to promote the development of new home businesses.

“Let the new zoning code work,” she said, regarding the CBE. “Is this the time to do this project? I say no.”

The problem with the CBE, according to Christine Roberts, is that it doesn’t reflect current economic realities, including the decline of manufacturing in the region and country.

“The businesses are not there,” Roberts said, stating that consequently, she believes the CBE will remain empty and lose money.

But Roi Qualls, the former head of eHealth Data Solutions, urged Council to move ahead with the CBE. Speaking of his own difficulty finding space to locate when his business needed to expand, he said, “If there’s no place to grow into, businesses will go to the parks in Springfield.”

Council needs to expect the CBE to take time to fill up, he said. “You should be thinking of a 20-year or 50-year horizon,” he said.

Phyllis Schmidt encouraged Council to consider the historic precedent for the Village taking an active role in economic development. In the mid-80s, she said, the Village hired two public relations consultant to promote the village to prospective businesses.

“This is not all new for Council to do this,” she said.

In other Council business:

• Council discussed the next steps in the process of hiring a new Village manager, including whether to hire a consultant. Council did use a consultant for its most recent search, which resulted in the hiring of former manager Mark Cundiff.

“Most of us thought that was a good process,” Wintrow said.

However, Council members also considered how best to find a manager who would be a good fit for the village.

“Clearly, we’ve had some difficulties with this,” MacQueen said, regarding the Village’s recent past with managers who either left the job or didn’t work out. Council should discuss their expectations of a new manager in order to avoid some of these difficulties, she said. Council members also considered broadening the search to include leaders of nonprofits.

Housh urged Council to include villagers in every step of the hiring process.

“I want us to think about involving citizens from the beginning,” he said.

Housh and Gerry Simms will bring suggestions for potential consultants to Council’s next meeting.

• Council unanimously passed several financial housekeeping items, including a supplemental budget for the first three months of 2014. The budgeting process, which needs to be finished by the end of March, will begin in January, Council members agreed.

• Villager Joan Edwards expressed concern regarding Sunday’s tornado siren warning, which Edwards said she could barely hear from her South College Street house. She urged the police department to check the locations and volume of the sirens.

• Council’s next meeting will take place Monday, Dec. 2, at 7 p.m. at Council chambers.

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