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Village council— An eye on economic growth

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At their Aug. 24 meeting, Village Council members agreed on three steps to move forward on local economic development. The steps were in response to a presentation by Assistant Village Manager John Yung on “Ideas and Strategies for Economic Prosperity,” which Yung also described as “reflections after seven and a half months in Yellow Springs.” Hired in January of 2015 and tasked with economic development among other responsibilities, Yung will leave his position in September.

Overall, Yung wrote in a report to Council, “The village should play to its strengths, its uniqueness, its character, its history, its vibe. These are the village’s inherent assets.”

The three initial steps taken by Council are re-upping the Economic Sustainability Commission, looking into revitalizing the Revolving Economic Development Loan Fund, and tasking Village Manager Patti Bates with finding a consultant to complete a survey of available properties in town.

In his report, Yung cited changes in recent decades in the local business community, including the closing of former large employers such as Vernay, Antioch Publishing and Antioch College. However, he wrote, “since then the college has reopened and new businesses such as Enviro­Flight and the Yellow Springs Brewery have opened and the village is recovering and repositioning itself in a new economy focused around innovation and entrepreneurship.”

To strengthen the village ethos of creativity and entrepreneurship, Yung suggested five initiatives:

1) Strengthen downtown Yellow Springs

Components of this initiative include completing the downtown streetscape, developing better signage, increasing public art opportunities and implementing downtown Wi-Fi.

2) Remove barriers to development/redevelopment

Key to this initiative, according to Yung, is identifying sites available for possible development. These sites include the Village-owned Glass Farm and Dayton Street parking lot, and the privately owned Center for Business and Education, or CBE, the Vernay land on Dayton Street and the Wright State-owned property that formerly housed Wright State Physicians.

Other components were simplifying the zoning code, expanding housing opportunities and expanding retail opportunities.

3) Implement job creation tax incentives

This component would seek to “incentivize the creation and expansion of existing businesses and also lure new business to the village,” Yung wrote.

4) Develop relationships with existing businesses

5) Revise and update the Revolving Loan Fund

Yung advised repositioning the fund to be a “Catalytic Development Fund” for gap financing for local startups and current businesses. While the fund hasn’t been used since 2012 and has only $38,000 in its coffers currently, more than $100,000 earmarked for Village economic development could be used to beef up the fund. Yung recommended that the fund be overseen by the Economic Sustainability Commission and that applicants include a business plan.

In response to Yung’s presentation, Karen Wintrow, who is also director of the Chamber of Commerce, said she has recently received inquiries from several businesses, including a financial firm and several food processing businesses, looking to locate in the village, but was frustrated at the lack of space available.
“There’s a lot of wheel spinning going on,” Wintrow said. “We need the tools to market properties.”

To address this need, Council tasked Village Manager Patti Bates with looking into hiring a consultant to complete a survey of currently available properties. Council members Brian Housh and Wintrow, along with Finance Director Melissa Vanzant, will look closely at the Revolving Loan Fund to see if revitalization makes sense, and Housh put out a call for citizens who are interested in joining a reconstituted Economic Sustainability Commission. Interested persons should submit a letter of interest and résumé to Clerk of Council Judy Kintner.

In a related issue, Council unanimously approved a contract that makes current Finance Director Vanzant the new assistant Village manager, taking the place of Yung. Manager Bates praised Vanzant, who has been Village finance director for two years, for her work ethic. In the job Vanzant will continue as finance director, take over some work with commissions, oversee the Safe Routes to School program and help oversee planning and zoning. Denise Swinger will work primarily on zoning issues and will also work with Wintrow on economic development concerns, according to Bates. The transitions save the Village about $12,000 yearly.

In other Village business:
• Vanzant presented information on the Village’s current fiscal situation. New revenue sources are needed, she said, in order to keep up with upcoming capital needs.

Council has announced its intention to put a renewal of the current property tax levy on the ballot next year. The levy, which provides about $735,000 yearly in income to the general fund, is necessary to keep that fund from operating in the red in the near future, Vanzant said. While the general fund is anticipated to show deficit spending of $46,716 in 2016, the deficit would be far larger — $746,716 — without the levy that year, and would continue at around that level for years to come. However, with the levy, the deficit in 2017 is projected to go down to $12,098 and the fund would be in the black for years following.
The budget figures can be viewed online; click on Council packet for 8/24.

While Vanzant is projecting an uptick in local income tax revenue by about $100,000 each year, since that trend has been apparent in recent years, the general fund would still, with the levy and the increased income tax revenue, not be flush enough to afford needed capital projects on streets and parks, she said. Local taxes supply about 70 percent of the general fund, which funds most Village services other than the utilities.

To provide sufficient revenues for capital projects, Vanzant suggested that Council consider two options for increasing income taxes. The rate of Village income tax — which at 1.5 percent of income is about average for the state — could be increased, but only by a vote of citizens. A second option is that Council could amend the rate of income tax “forgiveness,” when villagers work in another town. Currently, the Village doesn’t require any income tax payment from those who pay taxes to another town up to the Village rate of 1.5 percent. However, that amount of forgiveness could be reduced, so that those working outside of town pay tax to the village.

No decision was made on the topic, which Council will address in an upcoming meeting.

• Council heard from Environmental Commission member Duard Headley on the importance of joining Local Governments for Sustainability, known as ICLEI, as a way to move forward on climate change initiatives. While the cost of joining the group is about $600 annually, it offers a variety of tools to help municipalities deal with climate change, Headley said.

• Environmental Commission member Tom Dietreich gave Council a heads-up on a grant application that the group will bring to Council in September. The grant, from Clean Ohio, would provide funding for the maintenance and improvement of the 7.4-acre Glass Farm conservation area, where beavers and other wildlife have taken up residence. The funds would allow the creation of trails to allow more visits by citizens, along with maintenance of the beaver deceiver device designed by the late engineer John Eastman.

• Council unanimously approved a two-year lease with the Stony Creek Garden Center on U.S. 68 North.

• Council unanimously approved the first readings of recommendations to vacate two sections of Village streets — East North College and East Herman — that run through the Antioch College campus and no longer function as streets.


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