Economic and Tourism Development Commission approved

Published 4:28 pm Wednesday, August 3, 2011

by Samantha Hurst

The Polk County Board of Commissioners gave its final approval Aug. 1 for the creation of an Economic and Tourism Development Commission (ETDC).

The board unanimously approved a package of policies and procedures during what was intended to be a public hearing Monday night though no public comments were made.

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Ambrose Mills, chair of the county’s economic development committee, said he appreciated the hard work committee members put into developing the ETDC’s policies.

“Our purpose was to effect a merger between the EDC and tourism department,” Mills said. “I think it’s a great opportunity to invigorate both, and the truth is the two of those have always been intertwined. Much of our potential for economic growth lies in tourism.”

The commission’s approval of the ordinance and policies also gave the go-ahead to begin the search for a director of the ETDC.

Commissioners plan to hire a new economic development director, whose position will be a contracted service budgeted at $50,000 a year. Mills said the committee felt a contract position would be more attractive to the type of person they were seeking for the position.

A part-time employee will staff the travel and tourism portion of the commission.

The ETDC’s budget amounts to about $64,000, generated solely from occupancy tax funding.

The new commission will be comprised of 11 regular members and one alternate member, each to be appointed by the board of commissioners.

Each member appointed to the board will serve terms of three years with a two-term maximum. No more than four members, however, will have expiring terms in a given year.

The members will serve without pay, but according to the ordinance, can be reimbursed for expenses within the limits of funds available to the development commission.

“I think the key to success is to get a really dedicated group of skillful people on our commission,” Mills said.

The commission will be required to meet at least once every three months, but according to the approved policies, will meet the last Wednesday of each month at 5:30 p.m. All meetings will be open to the public.

The ETDC must also submit a written report of its activities by April 15 of each year. This report must include a statement of expenditures up to that point of the fiscal year and the requested budget for the following fiscal year.

The ordinance also lays out eight points of responsibility charged to the commission. Those include:

• Receiving economic and tourism development plans from municipal, county, joint or regional planning boards with jurisdiction.

• Formulating projects aimed at attracting new industries, encouraging existing industries, encouraging tourism development, encouraging equine development, encouraging new business and industrial ventures by local as well as foreign capital and other activities similar in nature.

• Conducting industrial surveys as needed, advertising in periodicals or other communications media, furnishing advice and assistance to business and industrial prospects which may locate in the area, providing the same to existing business and industry, as well as individuals seeking to establish new businesses or industry.

• Encouraging the formation of private business development corporations or associations which may carry out projects to secure and prepare sites for industrial development, constructing industrial buildings or rendering financial or managerial assistance to businesses and industries.

• Through the chair, forming ad hoc and permanent committees composed of members and nonmembers of the commission for the purpose of encouraging involvement of both public and private officials in the economic and tourism development of the county.

• Using grant funds to make loans for purposes permitted by the funding agency in accordance with the grant agreement and in furtherance of economic and tourism development.

• Encouraging steps to increase tourism expenditures within the county and raise awareness of the positive economic impact of tourism dollars on the local economy.

• And carrying on other activities necessary in the proper exercise of the functions described in the ordinance.

Mills said the committee used the Polk County 2020 Vision Plan as a roadmap for what the county’s citizens might want to see from such a commission. He said this meant balancing efforts to encourage economic growth, while still maintaining the rural feel many residents cherish.

“It really came down to a vision of what we wanted to see for Polk County. I think we’re poised for a really good era of progress in that respect,” Mills said.