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Hot Topic - EDA: Chair says there’s not enough funding.

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By Calen McKinney

Just as at a Campbellsville City Council meeting the night before, a discussion about the Economic Development Authority took center stage at Tuesday night's regular Taylor Fiscal Court meeting.

Mark Johnson, chairman of the Campbellsville/Taylor County Economic Development Authority Board, said he wants to talk to magistrates about whether the EDA is doing what is expected. And, if not, he said, the EDA's purpose needs to be clarified.

"I'm hearing that we're not doing what you want," he said.

Johnson said he appreciates the efforts of both the magistrates and Taylor County Judge/Executive Eddie Rogers in helping with economic development.

"We all work very diligently to bring enhancement to this community," he said.

Johnson said he had believed that the Court and Campbellsville City Council both earmarked $100,000 for payment on land debt at Heartland Commerce and Technology Park and the county gave an additional $100,000 for EDA operating expenses. He said having $200,000 of the EDA's $300,000 budget allocated for a specific purpose had given him some concern about whether EDA can continue.

"[But] last night, the City Council said 'We don't want strings attached,'" he said, which means the city's $100,000 contribution is not earmarked for the debt.

Johnson said he told Council members that if $200,000 is allocated to the land debt, he would have to disband the EDA because it won't have enough money to operate.

"It that happens, we don't have a long tenure," he said. "You may have to take that debt."

Even with a $300,000 budget and only $100,000 allocated to payment on the $2.1 million land debt, Johnson said EDA still might not have enough to operate past the next two years.

Johnson said he originally requested $450,000 for the EDA's budget, $225,000 from each the city and county, which would allow the EDA to pay the land debt within the next 15 years.

With retirement and benefits, salaries total about $150,000. With that, office expenses and utilities account for nearly the entire budget. Last year, the EDA had only $26,000 left to pay toward principal of the land loan.

Johnson discussed how the current economy has made attracting businesses to Taylor County difficult and said that Team Taylor County Executive Director Ron McMahan is making a great effort to do just that.

Magistrate James Jones said he would like McMahan to come to Court meetings more often than once every quarter to report on the economic development activity in the community.

Magistrate Ed Gorin said he has been told that some companies expect to be given free land or money in exchange for locating in a community. He said other communities seem to be able to do that, which means Taylor County can't compete.

"I would never give a company a dime to move here," Johnson said. However, he added, he would agree to granting tax abatements and giving free land.

Gorin suggested that the Court could consider reducing the $100,000 it has asked the EDA to pay on land to help the office operate, though no action was taken on his suggestion.

Johnson said he is asking for the court's continued support of EDA, that it consider meeting with the two Councilmen appointed to an EDA committee to discuss its funding and revisit the amount of money the Court gives EDA or consider taking over the $2.1 million land debt.

Gorin asked Johnson if EDA officials could cut its budget, specifically in the salary area.

"We're all in this together," he said. "We can only afford so much money to give to you all ... what are you all willing to do?"

Magistrate Matt Pendleton said his constituents tell him that they want to see results from the EDA. He said some have asked how long the county will continue to pay EDA without seeing results.

However, Johnson said much of the work done by EDA staff is intangible and may not get the attention it deserves. Magistrates asked for McMahan to report all intangible work so that credit can be given where it is due.

Johnson said he or another EDA representative will speak with the Court at another meeting and have a finite EDA budget in hand.

Magistrate Richard Phillips said the county two years ago began giving the EDA a $200,000 allocation.

"We doubled our donation," he said. "Some people are saying, 'You're throwing $200,000 in the trash.'"

Phillips said the county has just completed its 2011-2012 budget.

"It would be very difficult for me to vote for another dollar increase," he said. "We all have to live within the means we have."

Magistrate John Gaines said he has confidence in the EDA and would like to see the city match the county's contribution. He said he wasn't in favor of requiring the EDA to use $100,000 of the county's $200,000 for land debt.

"I know you have little to work with and I hope we can do more," he said.

Johnson said the EDA can't always share the fruit of its labors until after the fact, which may appear as if the EDA isn't productive. He said he also realizes that there has been some tension with EDA.

"We haven't always been husband and wife," he said, "but I think we see eye to eye on a lot of things."

Rogers said the county gives about $1.7 of the $3.6 million it receives in county occupational taxes to other entities.

"Our hands are tied ... the public doesn't realize what we give to other entities," he said. "We're here to help, but we're limited also."

If the city wants to meet and discuss EDA, Rogers said, the Court already has a committee formed to do that. Pendleton and Magistrate Tommy Corbin serve on that committee.