Marion council reconsiders grant promise

Theresa Carroll wept before the Marion City Council Monday as she asked to receive the full $5,000 grant she believed was promised her by the city when she began work on her business, TC’s What Not Shop.

Carroll said she had first been attracted to Marion by the U.S. Highway 56 sign offering free industrial park lots. Then, when she saw the former mini-mall building for sale, and found out from Economic Director Jami Williams she could receive a $5,000 city grant to open a business there, “Marion was like a dream come true.”

Carroll said, “I put all of my heart, soul and money into it. It was awesome. But then for you to turn around, and say it will be something else, I just can’t believe it. You can’t say something like this, and not do it. You can’t lead people into believing one thing, then turn around, and not do it.”

Williams reminded the council that the grants were from an original $25,000 provided from sales tax surplus raised to back industrial park revenue bonds. The money was provided as an experiment in economic development, and no provision was made to continue it.

Guidelines state granting of the funds must lead to business expansions that will increase revenues or employment.

Williams said 10 businesses have received grant money with only one of them failing, and that is a very low failure rate for new business. Out of the original money, only a little more than $1,500 was left to grant Carroll, she said.

In answer to questions from the council, Carroll said she had 12 spaces rented to businesses within her building, five consignment areas designated, and another five people wanting spaces.

Councilman Gene Winkler said the $25,000 had been set up as only a trial situation, and that it should end when the money is gone.

Councilor Jerry Kline said he agreed that denying Carroll the money would be a tough situation, but that Winkler was right. He moved to give the remaining $1,528.80 to Carroll, and end the program. Winkler seconded.

Councilor Bill Holderman interjected that he thought “all the businesses that applied should be treated alike,” and that Carroll shouldn’t be denied for being the last business in seeking what was promised.

When asked, City Administrator David Mayfield said it is true that sales tax revenues have been increasing.

Mayfield answered with a “yes” to Mayor Martin Tice’s question of whether a full grant could be funded if it was decided to do so.

Kline’s motion then failed by a 2-3 vote with he and Winkler sticking to their actions.

Tice moved to grant the full $5,000 to Carroll, and cease all further applications for grants at this time, which passed 4-1, only Kline still against.

The council moved on without discussion of making a grant to the Wellness Center when it was learned an anonymous donater was willing to give the community service business $5,000.

Toward the end of a presentation by Marion County Economic Secretary Teresa Huffman, she was asked by Councilor Stacey Collett, considering ongoing old rivalries,”How can we mend fences between here and Hillsboro?”

Huffman advised that the quickest way is to stop talking about it and thinking of it as a valid point.

“Small towns have to stop warring with each other for any positive development to happen,” she said.

Collett asked Huffman if she had already seen the rivalry between the two towns affect things.

She replied, “Absolutely.”

Earlier in the session, Huffman said she has been enjoying her work, and finding strong support and help from persons like Williams.

She asked the city to help let her know about commercial buildings for sale or standing empty so she can get them advertised on the Internet under Kansas Department of Commerce promotions.

Huffman said she has been impressed by promotions of small communities on Wichita television stations, and she is pleased that Marion County cities will be featured on Channel 12 monthly beginning in March this year.

She said every town here has a story like “Burns, they’ve had very little, but they’ve used what they had 100 percent.”

Huffman is working on an energy conference to be held for several counties in Emporia that will focus in, with development agencies, on energy industries here.

Winkler announced highlights for Chingawassa Days June 1-3 with the country group Trick Pony scheduled for Saturday night, a fear factor contest probably in the afternoon Saturday, and an Elvis entertainment concert Friday night featuring 20 impersonators participating in a national contest to be concluded in Memphis.

The council approved the $4,000 purchase of a Marionks Internet Web domain name that will round out Web promotion of the city.

After allowing a few days for owner contact, the council approved proceeding with final demolition and removal of a structure that has burned at 127 Billings Street. Council members, in consultation with City Attorney Dan Baldwin noted that a second structure there may be removed if no action is taken by the owner.

Linda Johnson suggested during public forum that the city recover materials from the home at 127 Billings to help pay for its removal

Businessman Jim Davis during public forum time questioned Clerk Angela Lange about city billing being done in Wichita at a cost of $560 monthly instead of locally.

Lange answered about decisions made because of machines jamming and lack of help until Baldwin interupted to say he was cutting off the line of conversation, and that Davis should address any questions to the council.

When Tice again opened the topic for questions from Davis later in the meeting, Holderman said he needed to take a look at the situation himself.

Tice ended the conversation saying it was done to save employee cost.

Mayfield said County Commissioner Dan Holub had asked that county department heads and commissioners come to a council meeting to answer questions, and discuss issues. The council members suggested Holub’s group be invited to attend at the end of a regular meeting.

The council met with Baldwin, the Marion Planning Commission, Mayfield, Street Superintendent Marty Fredrickson, and Unified School District Lee Leiker for a half-hour under attorney-client privilege.

On the subject of the city providing parking space for semi-trucks,

Williams advised that Ampride has reported selling out of parking permits there leaving only about three big trucks driven by Marion residents to find parking still.

The council approved a cafeteria plan for employees with up to $1,500 withdrawn from paychecks annually to pay on medical expense.

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