New economic development department vote splits council |

New economic development department vote splits council

The City of Craig's Council Chambers.
Craig Press File

The first reading of the potential economic development department narrowly passed at this week’s city council meeting, ending up with a 4-3 split among the council members and Mayor Jarrod Ogden.

Public comments around the EDD raised concerns about expanding government in a time where many believe that saving should be the number one priority for the city. Councilman and mayor-elect Ryan Hess, who voted no on the potential department’s creation, said that he felt that there were other ways to accomplish the same goal without actually creating a new portion of city government. One option, he said, is to move the economic development position under the city manager.

“I don’t necessarily disagree with the department — it’s just premature for the evolution of the city at this time,” Hess said. “In my opinion, it should go underneath Peter (Brixius, the city manager). For the things we hired the economic development manager to do, it goes hand in hand with the city manager.”

Hess acknowledged the public concern that expanding local government might not be the best move at this point in the city’s timeline, and though other council members who voted to approve the department said that grant funding would cover the department for two years, Hess said that there is concern as to what happens after that.

“We have grant funding for now — since that position is supported by grants for two years. But two years from now, we can decide to apply for more grant funding, use general funds or just place them where they should be,” he said. “I understand why they want to create it. It’s clearer accounting wise, and there are other positive things. Those boxes can still be checked if it were placed under the city manager.”

Councilman Paul James also voted no for the department for similar reasons. At Tuesday’s council meeting, James said that with similar economic development departments, he has not found an example that does not operate in a deficit.

“I’m not going to be voting for this,” James said. “I also agree with the comments that we’ve had from the public (Tuesday) that it’s probably not the best time to be strapping the city with more costs and increasing government. I’ve also multiple times asked that — using economics as the science that it is — what theories promote these as being good ideas? And I’ve never gotten an answer in several years.”

Proponents of the department, such as councilman Chris Nichols, said that the department does not have to last forever, if the council should decide that the department’s budget is better fit somewhere else.

“The other item of creating an economic development department is again because of the charter, and that department is funded for two years through grants,” Nichols said. “So that’s flow in, flow out. It’s not really the hard, local tax dollars — it’s tax dollars, we all know it’s tax dollars, but it’s not local. If we can’t fund that department in the future, we just don’t fund that department. And that will be up for future councils to work on, as well.”

In the split, council members Nichols, Andrea Camp, Bruce Cummings and Mayor Jarrod Ogden voted to approve the department, and council members Hess, James and Steve Mazzuca voted against it.

The second and potentially final reading of the ordinance will be held at the subsequent council meeting, at which Camp and Ogden will be excused as their terms end and newly elected councilmembers are sworn in. Hess will be sworn in as mayor in Ogden’s place, Nichols will be seated for another term, and newcomers Jesse Jackson and Sean Hovorka will take the places vacated by Hess and Camp. Cummings currently leads fellow candidate Parrish Terry by a single vote, but cured and overseas ballots will determine the future of that fourth seat.

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