SOUTH WHITLEY — South Whitley Councilman Les Hoffman wants an explanation from the Whitley County Economic Development Corp.
He made his frustrations known at Tuesday’s city council meeting.
“It just seems like we’ve not been updated here in South Whitley, I just feel like things are behind,” said Hoffman. “I was wondering what the justification was for the fee, because every time, you know I ask about a grant or something it seems like there is either grant writers involved or ‘well you bring the stuff to us and we’ll take a look at it and then we can help you out.’ I guess from my stand point of view I would very much like to have somebody who is aggressive, and wants to come and say, ‘Hey, this is what you guys should be doing.’”
The conversation started because the council is deciding rather or not to pay its spring installment to the EDC. This payment is $8,265. Each year, the town pays about $16,000 to the EDC to help generate growth. Fee amounts are decided based on population, Myers said. Columbia City pays around $60,000, he said.
Hoffman’s issue stems from what he says is a stagnation in the town. He feels that the town isn’t receiving much help and fees creates additional frustrations.
EDC President Jon Myers said he understands the concerns, and acknowledges that recently communication between the EDC and South Whitley has fallen to the wayside. Myers said that when he first took the job a member of South Whitley’s Council at the time, Dave Wilkinson would come to EDC meetings and was the active voice of South Whitley.
Myers also wasn’t sure who to contact and he wanted to make sure he was addressing the right people. Hoffman said that he would love for Myers to attend the meetings so that they can create that conversation between South Whitley and the EDC.
The new issue of talent, and needing skilled workers for the jobs that the county needs is still an issue with which the EDC is wrestling. It is part of the reason the EDC can’t tell the town what to do.
“Really, the whole talent attraction piece, it’s really new to us here in the last year, in terms of how do we get people to move here, what do we need, in terms of infrastructure, part of its us just trying to find our way as well,” Myers said.
Councilman Randy Cokl said that it’s a hard balance to strike between upgrading the town and getting people to move in, or asking people to move in and promising them the upgrades will come.
Myers brought up one future option for the council to consider – a Tax Increment Financing district or TIF. Such a district would allow for property taxes within a certain area to be reinvested in that area.
Council members said they would be interested in looking in to something like that, but no plans were made beyond that.
In the end, the Council approved a motion to pay the first installment of $8,625 to the EDC.
In other council news:
• The council approved a plan to move forward on litigation that may allow the town to receive compensation for the original wastewater treatment plant being too small. The company that built the original wastewater plant, used incorrect measurements for the plant. This resulted in the plant being unable to function properly. Currently the council has approved a $4 million upgrade to the wastewater treatment plant. This required a 40 percent increase in the town’s water rates. To avoid additional increases the town is seeking legal action.
• An ordinance for an economic development rider, was approved. This will provide a rate incentive for companies that want to expand or new companies that want to come in to the town. This is to increase economic development in the area by providing a percentage kick back.
• Judy Earhart from the park board noted that the new water fountain was installed in the park. She also sought approval for repairs to the fence near the basketball court. The estimate she received said it would cost about $1,700 to fix the fence. It was approved by the council with circumstances that Earhart deliver a copy of the estimate to the treasurer. The fence is scheduled to be repaired April 24.
• Cokl addressed a meeting between South Whitley Council members and Whitley County Commissioners, to discuss Lutheran EMS coming into town. Cokl encouraged any South Whitley residents who could come to the meeting to do so. The meeting is 1 p.m. Monday, April 17.