The Board of County Commissioners will again hit rewind on a model to promote economic development.
Following the recommendation of the current board of the Gulf County Economic Development Alliance, Inc. (EDA) and the advisory committee appointed by commissioners as liaison to the EDA, the BOCC approved bringing the EDA back under its umbrella.
A detailed proposal outlining the model will be brought to commissioners in two weeks, but, in broad strokes, county attorney Jeremy Novak said the proposal would be for operations similar to the Tourist Development Council, with a director and advisory council.
The director, Novak said, would be a county employee or under county supervision, though specifics were unclear during Tuesday’s regular bi-monthly meeting.
Commissioners approved the tentative recommendation 4-1 with Commissioner Joanna Bryan dissenting.
The EDA, a private contractor with the BOCC, was created just over a year ago after the BOCC had voted to bring what was then the Economic Development Council, and its executive director Barry Sellers, under the BOCC.
The EDA has an all-volunteer board and after Sellers became ill and was forced to leave his position last summer, the EDA has operated without an executive director, in part relying on informal assistance from the Bay County Economic Development Alliance.
The BOCC suspended its quarterly payments to the EDA in the amount of $20,000 in January.
Bryan said she understood the bumps encountered after Sellers’ illness and departure, but argued the BOCC should be seeking to bolster an independent agency for economic development rather than putting the work under the county.
“Businesses will be hesitant to deal with the county,” Bryan said. “I am against the county being in control of the EDA. I am against the director being a county employee.”
She said the county had a stake in creating jobs, justifying funding the agency, but said that funding should be aimed at putting the EDA in a position to be self-sustaining as a private/public partnership.
Bryan also expressed concern about the Sunshine Law and potential impacts on confidentiality requirements that would be part of luring businesses to the county if those acting as point of contact were county employees.
Commissioner Warren Yeager said he would wait and see.
“I understand all the concerns, but we have to find out what kind of model they are bringing to us,” Yeager said. “When a company wants to come to Gulf County it will come to Gulf County.”
Commissioner Tan Smiley voiced frustration at the BOCC starting again in economic development, the third time in his three years on the board – and at least sixth time in 12 years – the BOCC has changed direction, he said.
He noted that the discussions about economic development transpire among those who have jobs and benefits. The people who work to pay the taxes to support government, he added, can’t support the same level of taxes anymore and jobs are scarce.
Starting over again and again, he said, was like beginning construction of a home and then tearing it down and starting again.
“I don’t know what the issue is but our biggest problem is people who can’t get along with each other,” Smiley said. “Something is wrong and the majority of the problem is people who can’t get along and before they will get along they’d rather leave it a mess.
“We (aren’t any) further along than we were three years ago. We need to take personal feelings and put them aside. We need to quit worrying about ‘I’. We need to get some jobs in here.”
Commissioners voted to suspend a pilot project that introduced a recycling center at Salinas Park due to high costs and the increasing incidents of folks dropping off other garbage at the site.
The project began last spring and was initially well-received, said a representative from Waste Management, but over the summer months became an “eyesore” as other garbage, “contaminants”, were dropped at the site.
The additional costs of more frequent pulls due to the volume of trash dropped at the site also pushed the budget well beyond projections for the first year of the pilot project.
Yeager moved to suspend the program, a motion unanimously passed.
“This pilot program has shown us we need to do something with recycling curbside,” Yeager said. “It’s just not working.”