Peabody could be the first city to hop on the bandwagon of the new Marion County Economic Development Corporation, but unanswered questions Monday kept city council members from redirecting $25,000 to the organization for now.
MCEDC is an outgrowth of a county commission task force. It is a nongovernmental corporation focused on countywide economic development, with a goal of bringing together resources from the county and cities to promote business, jobs, and work force development.
County commissioners have already approved $825,000 spread over five years for the corporation. MCEDC board members Russell Groves and Chris Hernandez told council members that Peabody is the first city they’ve approached for a commitment.
“I’m asking for your good faith in partnering with us,” Hernandez said. “The ones who divide and conquer fail. If you look at models where municipalities are partnering with their fellow counties and they have a common bond and are working together, where it’s a team effort, they are prospering.”
Groves described MCEDC’s plans to hire a full-time professional director.
“We intend to hire a high-powered, well-qualified economic development director,” he said. “One of the things we’ll do is get the word out to investors and businesses that Marion County is ready for more retail opportunities.”
Downtown Peabody would be an ideal spot to promote to new retail businesses, Groves said.
When Groves asked the council what Peabody was doing to promote economic development, council president Megan Galucci responded.
“We’re not doing anything because we don’t have anybody actively pursuing that,” she said. “There’s not really much of anything going on.”
In response to a question from Hernandez, Galucci expressed reservations about Peabody’s standing with the corporation relative to other cities.
“When it comes down to things, it’s Hillsboro, Marion, then Peabody,” she said. “If we’re putting our money in, we want the same results that Marion and Hillsboro are getting. Obviously we don’t have as much skin in the game, we don’t have as much money, but we don’t want to feel like we should be represented less because we don’t have all the opportunities they have.”
“We’re offering you the opportunity to be the first city in Marion County to get skin in this game and get a seat at the table,” he said. “I know the perception has been that Peabody didn’t really have a seat at the table; we’re offering that to you. This is a pay to play concept. We’re talking about $25,000 as a commitment from you, and that gets you a voting membership on the board of directors of MCEDC.”
Hernandez qualified that response by noting that in the corporation’s bylaws, the two cities making the largest monetary contributions would each have two members on the board.
“Then the rest of us get one?” council member Janice Woodruff said.
“The rest of you get none,” Hernandez said.
“So the two cities who give the most money are going to get two seats and everybody else is out?” Galucci said.
Hernandez explained that the board would include three members chosen by county commissioners, and two at-large members, which offered opportunities for Peabody to be represented. The bylaws also allow for expanding the nine-member board, Hernandez said.
“We’d come back and work on this to get you guys a seat,” he said.
Council members were also concerned about what could happen to the reconstituted Peabody Main Street program and funding attached to that.
“In order for us to maintain our status and maintain our funds from them, they said we have to have an economic development director,” Galucci said. “We don’t have the budget to have our own economic development director and buy into the county corporation.”
Hernandez said he had called the state Main Street office in Topeka, but was waiting on an answer as to whether a corporation director would suffice to maintain Peabody’s status in the program.
“If that program is important to you, we don’t want to be a competing interest,” he said.
“I think that will be the biggest deciding factor, at least in my world,” Galucci said. “We can’t let the funds go if it means we lose the loans we have for Main Street.”
Council members did not take any action, but agreed to continue exploring their options.
In other business:
- Denise Jantz received council approval to keep about two dozen chickens on her property, which lies within city limits but is zoned for agricultural use. Council members stressed that the waiver was based on the zoning; properties zoned residential will continue to be limited in the number and types of animals allowed.
- A request from Rodger Charles for city workers to remove curb concrete in front of First Baptist Church so a handicap-accessible ramp can be installed was approved and scheduled for May 1. The church will be responsible for constructing a curb cut and ramp.