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Council gives first nod to CBE

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In its first vote on the Center for Business and Education since bringing the issue back to the table, Village Council on Monday night narrowly approved spending $1 million to fund CBE infrastructure. Karen Wintrow, Gerry Simms and Brian Housh voted to fund the CBE, while Marianne MacQueen and Lori Askeland voted against.

Council will take its second and final vote on the CBE funding at its next regular meeting on July 7.

The issue, which was controversial when first considered last fall, had been tabled for several months after a procedural error was discovered. The CBE design had not, as required by Village law, first been approved by planning commission, so the planners addressed the project design in recent months before sending it back to Council. On Monday, Council unanimously approved the CBE subdivision design before voting on funding the project.

At Council’s last meeting, Simms and MacQueen, who had previously favored the CBE, both said they might change their votes due to concerns regarding the lack of capacity of Community Resources, which initiated the project, along with a lack of clear plans for the CBE. Before Council voted on Monday night, CR board member Roi Qualls stated that the board has been “sharpening their thoughts on the theme of the park,” and decided to focus on sustainability, although the group would also consider potential businesses that are not sustainability-focused.

Community Resources’ new energy has convinced him that the CBE is a viable plan, according to Simms.

“I have renewed confidence that the pro­ject should move forward,” he said.

Several current or past members of the CR board, including Ellen Hoover, Glenn Watts, David Boyer and Jerry Sutton, also urged Council to vote for the project.

“We have seen businesses grow here and then leave because there’s no place to expand,” said Watts, who offered a metaphor from an old basketball coach who said it’s always better to try and take the shot rather than not trying. Watts said he believes that the CBE offers Yellow Springs the best hope of new economic development.

Other CR supporters encouraged Council to back the project due to the longevity of Village involvement.

“Council has been working in partnership with Community Resources for 15 years,” Sutton said.

In explaining her vote against funding the project, MacQueen said she supports the “concept” of the CBE. However, she’s very concerned about adding $80,000 a year (the interest on the bonds to cover the estimated $1 million expense) onto the Village’s current $250,000 deficit, and also believes that Council is moving too fast on the project. Council should first adopt an economic development plan and clarify whether CR will become a designated community improvement corporation, according to MacQueen, who said she favors tabling the project.

“Council hasn’t done what it needs to do,” MacQueen said.

However, Housh disagreed, saying, “I don’t think we’re rushing into anything.” He favors moving ahead because passing the funding ordinance allows CBE opponents to mount a referendum, as they have said they intend.

“I think what most citizens want is to know if this [the CBE] is the charge from the community,” he said.

Askeland said that her vote hasn’t changed since the original discussion last winter, when she became concerned that the project isn’t viable and would therefore waste taxpayers’ money.

The CBE discussion filled Council chambers with about 40 citizens. While the CR past and present board members spoke in favor, about 10 villagers urged caution or spoke against funding the CBE.

“I would be very cautious” funding such a project, said Richard Lapedes, the former CEO of Lion Apparel in Dayton. Lapedes spoke of the “tremendous shift in the economy,” away from labor-intensive business and toward capital intensive. Lapedes said he could see the CBE working if the Village constructs the buildings for businesses to move into, but not if businesses need to fund construction.

“Otherwise, the market is terrible,” he said. “It was declining 16 years ago and it’s declined more since.”

Christine Roberts took issue with the “go for it” metaphor offered by Watts, suggesting instead the example of a man who gambles away one month’s rent money in hopes of gaining enough to pay the second month, then loses it all.

“Just going for it is not always the best advice,” she said. “I would consider it foolish to risk that money and unethical if it’s someone else’s money.”

Chrissy Cruz took exception to Sutton’s statement that the Village, because it’s been involved in the CBE, is committed to carrying it through. Until last fall, federal and state grants were available to fund the CBE infrastructure, and only since then has the Village been asked to commit $1 million to the project, she said.

“It’s a fallacy to say we’ve been supporting the CBE all these years,” she said. “This is a completely different game now that we’re being asked for a big chunk of money.”

According to Greene County Board of Elections director Llyn McCoy on Tuesday, organizers will need to gather the required number of signatures for the referendum during the 30 day period after Council takes its second vote on the CBE on July 7, and before the Aug. 6 filing deadline.

Other items of Council’s June 16 agenda will be in next week’s paper.

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