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Council ready to fund CBE

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By a narrow margin, Village Council at its Dec. 16 meeting signalled its readiness to move ahead with providing almost $1 million to fund the Center for Business and Education, or CBE, infrastructure. Council approved 3–2 a motion requesting that Village staff bring to its next meeting legislation that would provide the funding. Karen Wintrow, Brian Housh and Gerry Simms voted for the motion, while Lori Askeland and Marianne MacQueen voted against.

About 40 villagers attended the meeting, with most speakers urging Council to seek more information and slow down in making the CBE decision. However, the majority of Council members were ready to act.

“If we don’t start now, we’ll miss the 2014 construction season,” said Wintrow, who also expressed her concern that more delay would jeopardize the project’s $412,000 federal grant. “I think there’s energy right now.”

Housh said he voted yes because the CBE offers a “long-term fix” for the local economy, adding that funding the CBE does not preclude Council from also supporting short-term economic strategies. He also stated, “I think we’ve talked about this a lot.”

However, that talking led Askeland to vote no.

“The more I’ve heard, the greater my misgivings,” she said, stating those misgivings have to do with how likely it is that the Village will get a return on its investment, and how long that return will take.

MacQueen repeated her previous concerns that Council hasn’t done sufficient due diligence on the project, and that CBE funding should be part of an overall economic development plan rather than a single focus.

The amount that the Village will spend on the project is a significant increase over the $656,000 that Community Resources board member Jerry Sutton requested of Council in September. According to Interim Village Manager Kent Bristol, the $1 million sum came from a recent meeting with bond counsel firm Squire Sanders, which projected that the CBE infrastructure construction would cost $733,000, and that with additional funding for contingencies and other needs, the Village should seek $978,000 in funding. At about 4.8 percent interest, the Village would pay an average of about $80,500 yearly for 20 years, or $122,000 yearly if paid off in 10 years. The funding estimates are conservative, Bristol said, stating that, “What we’re looking at here are worst case scenarios.”

Bristol also encouraged Council to hire a manager for the project, since Village staff doesn’t have the capacity.

About 12 villagers who attended the meeting questioned the project or urged Council to slow down, while four spoke in favor of moving ahead with funding the CBE.

“Has the Village performed an independent risk analysis and an independent cost/benefit analysis?” Steve Deal asked, stating that as the project moves forward, “transparency becomes more important.”

Local landlord Bob Baldwin urged Council to first look at what other space for economic development is available in town, citing Antioch College and the Creative Memories building as examples, before moving ahead on the CBE.

“I encourage caution and more deliberation,” he said.

Architect Dan Reyes urged Council to look more closely at the CBE project’s design for opportunities for greater sustainability, and Michael Jones expressed concerns that the public seems to have little input regarding which businesses will occupy the CBE, or how the space will look.

“If villagers are providing the funds, they need to have a say,” he said.

Chrissy Crews alerted Council that several villagers are circulating a petition against the public funding of the CBE, although not against the CBE itself. And Matt Carson stated that Council has not done the due diligence that the project requires.

“It’s just throwing a million dollars at it and seeing what happens,” he said.

Dimi Reber expressed concern that borrowing money for the CBE would limit the Village’s ability to respond to other pressing needs, such as rehabbing its water plant. However, according to Bristol, the funding for water needs comes from another source, so would not be affected.

Speaking in favor of funding the CBE, Paul DeLaVergne stated that most of the opposition to the project is fear-based, citing speakers’ concerns that the project will fail.

“We’re Yellow Springs. We’re different,” he said.

Paul Abendroth asked those who oppose funding the CBE “to come up with a Plan B to bring jobs to the community.”

Sue Abendroth urged Council to fund the project, citing concerns that “the financial stability of Yellow Springs has eroded,” and without new businesses to share the tax load, the Village won’t be able to continue to provide its current level of services.

The majority of Council agreed with Abendroth that it’s time to move ahead.

The sort of information that some villagers seek on the CBE “would take years,” according to Council member Gerry Simms, who said, “people keep thinking they’ll find magic information” that will answer questions, but, “it’s not out there.”

And some opposition to the project is not a reason to delay, Wintrow said.

“There will never be a proposal that’s fully supported by the community,” she said.

In other Council business:

• Council unanimously agreed to move ahead with hiring Management Partners as the consultant for its search for a new Village manager. Housh and Simms reported on having done research on the firm, including speaking with municipalities with which it has worked, and hearing positive feedback about the firm’s flexibility and ability to listen to community needs.

And hiring a consultant does not mean turning over the hiring process to an outside firm, but rather receiving additional help, according to Wintrow.

“I see them as not managing the process but administering it, doing the legwork,” she said.

The firm has said it will charge $19,500 for its services. In the Village’s last manager search, it paid $10,000 to the University of Dayton’s Don Vermilion.

• Council agreed to begin the budget process in mid-January, giving new financial director Melissa Vanzant more time to review figures. The 2014 budget needs to be completed by March.

• Council members and villager Joan Edwards expressed appreciation to Village workers for restoring power last Friday night after a car ran into a utility pole.

• Council unanimously approved the first reading of an ordinance that vacates an alley between East South College and Marshall streets, as requested by Antioch College.

• Council tentatively set Jan. 16 as the date for a Council retreat.

• Council’s next regular meeting will take place Monday, Jan. 6 at 7 p.m. in Council chambers. Agenda topics will include CBE funding, a report by engineer John Eastman on the cost of rehabbing the Village water plant, and an update from Police Chief Anthony Pettiford on the police department.

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