Other commissioners disagree with Morrison’s economic development idea

Transparency and openness in government is a good thing for the public.

But a proposal from Commissioner Cindy Morrison to bring greater openness to the money the county invests in economic development isn’t feasible at all, according to Commissioners Jeff Eggleston and Ben Kafferlin.

The proposal?

Shifting tax money currently given to the Warren County Chamber of Business and Industry to the Warren County Industrial Development Authority (IDA).

Morrison said that the IDA was founded in 1969.

“This has been defunct in a way,” she said, “only used to secure a bond for the Rouse. It is still active, just not being utilized.

“What I would like to do (is) bring it back together under the control of the commissioners (and) want to name board members to bring this back under the county control.”

Morrison said that, in the early 2000’s ,the WCCBI formed an “umbrella entity” and “took control of the IDA.”

Citing the need for the meetings of the entity that receives the county’s economic development funds to be public, Morrison called for the IDA to be a “public entity so that people know how the money is being spent.”

In a statement prepared on the 2017 budget in late December, Morrison said that “reviving the IDA under the control of the county commissioners would serve a vital role in helping to grow Warren County by earmarking funds for project-based performance. Funding in this manner would provide citizens a clear explanation as to how their money is spent and what they are getting in return for their tax dollars.”

Her statement attacks the WCCBI for holding private meetings, though acknowledges they are permitted to operate in that way.

“However, I strongly believe when taxpayers’ dollars fund any group or organization, public meetings should be expected.

“Warren County would benefit from any type of new development and I would be supportive of an even larger budgeted amount if there was a worthy project,” she said. “While $40,000 may not seem to be a significant amount of money for projects, these funds could be used as matching funds for grants to cover expenses such as costs that cannot be recouped, such as legal fees, closing costs, fees you cannot get back.”

But that idea, which Morrison has pushed at several meetings, isn’t even possible, according to Eggleston and Kafferlin.

Eggleston explained that the IDA, which is “essentially run by the WCCBI,” is generally used as a “‘pass through’ or ‘fiscal agent’ for various projects over the years. It has rarely been utilized in two decades.”

He said the last project undertaken under the auspices of the IDA was a bond issue for the Rouse Estate.

“Due to various changes in banking policies and regulations it has essentially gone dormant and can only really be used for bond financing for non-profit organizations. It’s basically useless as an entity.”

“We cannot discontinue the issue of keeping the IDA alive with the issue of reallocating funds from the WCCBI to fund it,” Kafferlin said. “It’s not like the IDA and the WCCBI are comparable tools. They don’t do the same things, so to speak of the two entities like interchangeable investment opportunities is misleading at best.”

“If we were going to allocate $40,000 every year to it, we’d need some type of project lined up and, frankly, $40,000 wouldn’t do much of anything on any type of substantive development project,” Eggleston added.

Both Kafferlin and Eggleston said that Morrison has not presented plans or projects that the IDA would focus on, “which is the primary reason I’m not in favor of allocating county tax dollars toward it,” Kafferlin said.

“Historically, the IDA has been seldom used for a reason – it’s a precise tool used for certain development opportunities,” he continued. “I want to keep the tool in the shed, for sure. But I think we’re going at this backwards. We need to develop a strategic plan for economic development that uses all available resources, including the WCDA (Warren County Development Association), WCCBI, WCVB (Warren County Visitors Bureau), IDA, and so forth.”

He suggested that the “motivation for moving funds is something I fail to grasp. Morever, taking money from the WCCBI would be a mistake” as they are “clearly effective at what they do and provide a great service to this community.”

Eggleston addressed Morrison’s desire for public meetings and said that “if she wanted to do something about it, my recommendation would be for her to attend a WCCBI meeting, as she is a board member along with Commissioner Kafferlin and me…. She has not attended a single WCCBI meeting since becoming a commissioner and also refuses to attend those meetings.”

He said that the idea of open meetings is “an objection that has been voiced by a previous commissioner, David Bauer.”

“This proposal doesn’t seem like a solution to any type of real problem,” Eggleston continued, “but instead a half-baked scheme to try and de-fund the WCCBI, which is confusing considering the WCCBI essentially manages the IDA.”