Council denies future EDP funding
Compromise deal between mayor, council president falls through
Wednesday, January 23, 2013 10:00 AM
The City Council threw a wrench in the mayor's economic development plan Tuesday when it voted 4-3 to deny future funding of the Economic Development Partners.
DEFEAT FOR MAYOR: Madison Mayor Damon Welch addresses the City Council before members voted on Council president Rick Berry’s motion to discontinue future funding of the Economic Development Partners. (Staff photo by Ken Ritchie)
Cash: City vote unfortunate
Jefferson County and the town of Hanover have already locked into a one-year deal with the Economic Development Partners.
The county pays $80,000 or 10 percent of the gaming fund - which earns revenue through an agreement with Switzerland County and Belterra Casino - whichever is less. Hanover pays $3,000 a year for EDP services.
The county contract allows for a 30-day cancellation or change notice.
Commissioner Mark Cash, who was appointed to the EDP board this year, said he does not expect the City Council's decision to affect the county's relationship with EDP.
"We'll continue with what we have, and we'll continue to make things as good as they can be," he said.
Cash said that EDP is presently working with two potential industrial prospects, both of which could bring about 50 jobs to the area.
Cash also said that though it is "unfortunate" that the city agreed not to fund EDP, he still believes the city and county need to find common ground for an economic development partnership and that the commissioners will continue to work with the mayor.
"The only way we can advance our county and our city is for all of us to work together," he said.
The decision stalled Mayor Damon Welch's economic development proposal which included a restructured EDP. Among the proposed changes were term limits for board members and establishing membership fees.
Council members Pete Backus, Darrell Henderson, Rick Berry and Kevin Kellems voted for the motion to deny future funding. Council members Dick Jones, Jim Lee and Laura Hodges voted against the motion.
Prior to the meeting, Welch and council president Berry, who has spoken against the mayor's plan in the past, were close to a compromise that would keep the agreement with EDP.
Welch said he met with Berry on Sunday for an hour to discuss the agreement. Berry said he spoke to several Council members about the plan, and after that discussion, told the mayor Tuesday afternoon he did not feel comfortable with the compromise.
Berry has said he likes the proposals laid out in a Blue Ribbon Panel report, even going so far as to attempt to include language in Tuesday's resolution that would require the Council to begin taking steps toward fulfilling the proposals of the citizen panel.
Berry said he plans to talk to members of the Blue Ribbon Panel, and it is "very possible" he will have a proposal to present at the next Council meeting.
"I wholeheartedly believe their report is in the best interest of the city of Madison," Berry said.
Welch said his plan included some recommendations from the Blue Ribbon Panel report. He failed to persuade the council to reject the resolution. Welch has the ability to go to the Board of Works and ask them to approve a contract with EDP, without approval from council. But he said he does not expect to do that.
"It's very tempting to do something like that, especially when I think it's a good plan and has support for it," Welch said after the meeting. "I would not ramrod it through (the Board of Works)."
Public opinion of EDP was the top-cited reason for discontinuing any funding for the group. Backus, who is a member on the newly formed economic development committee for the council, said he heard a majority of negative comments about the way EDP had been run.
"I cannot, in good faith, go against the will of so many," Backus said.
Henderson said the public-private classification of EDP creates the illusion of secrecy in the group, which was the biggest thing he wanted to see changed.
"It's the system, not the people," Henderson said.
Bernard Murphy, the interim director for EDP, said he requested an opportunity to address the council prior to Tuesday's meeting, but was not given an opportunity to speak until after the vote. Murphy hopes a compromise can still be reached to keep an agreement in place with EDP.
"I guess we'll just have to see what the plan's going to be, and hope it's good for the community," Murphy said after the meeting.
The minority voiced several concerns over the motion. Lee was the most vocal against the vote, raising legal questions about Berry's request for a vote on the resolution. Berry made the motion for a resolution verbally and there was no written form of the resolution available at the meeting.
The phrasing of the resolution also said the council would not fund EDP in the future. This did not rule out the possibility that EDP could change its name and then be funded by the city once again. Hodges said she was "a little disappointed we don't have a positive alternative."
Welch's plan also contains plans for an 11-member oversight board that would oversee economic development in Jefferson County. He said he believes the council gave him their blessings to attempt to get that board off the ground.
One criticism of that board is that education is not included in the organizational structure. Welch said education falls under the umbrella of workforce development and was one of several groups that was not included in the simplified version of the organizational chart for the board.
"We're talking," Welch said of the schools. " I want to be involved with the schools."