Archived Story

Which Policy Will We Get?

Published 10:00pm Thursday, July 3, 2014

To the Editor
I have followed the Board of Commissioners’ Economic Development process since its inception, attending all four BOC work sessions, a presentation of the last Policy draft to an outside group, and Monday’s Public Hearing.
The “Economic Development Policy” as summarized at the Public Hearing by Consultant Robert Williamson had some important differences from the actual BOC discussions held and decisions made as the policy was being developed. Some examples:
Mr. Williamson said that the plan’s highest priorities are to support the county’s 2010 Vision Plan and to create jobs within Polk County. However, in the BOC’s actual discussion and ranking of priorities during their November fourth work session, the two tying for absolute lowest priority – out of 14 being considered – were these:
• “We are in the midst of one of the most beautiful regions. We want to preserve that. We want to encourage the equine industry, viticulture and wineries, and develop our agricultural heritage,” and,
• “More than 50 percent of the employed Polk County residents commute 30-60 miles out of the county/out of state to work.”
Further, Mr. Williamson said at the Public Hearing that the new Policy focuses on supporting current industries rather than trying to attract new ones. But in their January thirteenth work session, when he explained the need to greatly increase the Economic Development budget to be consistent with neighboring counties – money he told the BOC must come out from property taxes and sales tax – he recommended that fully 50 percent of that enlarged budget go toward attracting new kinds of businesses rather than growing existing ones; Commissioner Pack said it should be at least 60 percent.
Thirdly, in reaction to the unanimously negative response to the creation of a county Equine Council, Chairman Owens told Public Hearing attendees that such a council was never intended to be an official county Commission appointed by or with connection to the county government. Yet I am looking at an Economic Development Org Chart discussed at the BOC’s December 13 work session th at shows an Equine Commission reporting up to the Economic & Tourism Development and Agricultural Economic Development boards, which report to the County Manager, who reports to the BOC. Equine Commission members were indeed to be appointed by the BOC, with four out of five commissioners agreeing to that concept. (Little known fact: I take shorthand.)
Two important questions on all these issues are:
1) Which Policy version is going to be enacted when the BOC approves it as expected? Mr. Williamson’s verbal assurances in front of a relatively small group or the facts as documented in black and white?
2) Since the official 2014-15 county budget was approved 4-to-1 by the BOC on June 16 with no increase for Economic Development, what’s to stop the majority from designating some “significant increase” and voting 4-to-1 to just take it out of the county’s fund balance, as they did with Ryan Whitson’s $178,590 severance package? That was asked but not answered at the Public Hearing.
People often accept vague assurances only to find that the devil is in the details – and in this case, the details are very different from what was presented at the Public Hearing. Are the inconsistencies intentional or just the result of a sloppy work process? Either way, Polk County taxpayers deserve a better product for the $21,000 paid.
The next step in this process will be for the BOC to consider approval of this new Policy, which will have to be done at a BOC meeting. If you’re interested, your voice can still be heard during citizen comments at that time.

– Judy Heinrich, Collinsville

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