Marion council considers options for economic development role

The Marion City Council agreed at its meeting Nov. 9 to begin the search for a new economic development director following Terry Jones? resignation last week.

Before starting the search, Mayor Todd Heit?schmidt and the council discussed alternatives to the position that could include Hillsboro and Marion County.

?We are very interested in a dialogue with Hillsboro about the current situation both of us are facing with our economic development positions,? Heitschmidt said.

Both communities are looking for someone to fill a recently vacated position. Heitschmidt said the opportunity to collaborate on economic development ?just makes sense.?

City Administrator Roger Holter questioned the council if it wanted the city to ask county commissioners for a definition of their economic development person?s role.

?We have a county economic development person that is focused on agri-tourism,? he said. ?She indicated that is her primary focus.?

With a defined job description, Holter said the city could better decide, through joint interlocal agreements, how to approach economic development and tourism on a countywide basis instead of being city-based.

Heitschmidt asked if tourism could be eliminated, or put as a low priority, for city director.

He said, ?When our predecessors made the decision to get into economic development in 1999, the city took on the industrial and business parks, and we are by far not full.?

Heitschmidt said somebody is needed locally to work on getting those lots filled as well as working with other economic efforts.

Tourism priority

Margo Yates, who begins Jan. 1 as the new parks and recreation director, said she wanted to encourage the council to ?not wipe tourism off the slate.?

With the retirement of the city?s chamber of commerce, she said it would help to know whether tourism would be the responsibility of parks and recreation or economic development.

?I am a strong advocate that economic development is a full-time job,? Yates said. ?(Jones) has done a good job of stepping up planning and zoning and (Holter) did fine at it, but he has plenty to do now.

?(The council has) some good people working for you, but you can?t spread them too thin,? she said. ?We have something new starting and something else retiring, so there are questions that will come up and we will work through them.?

Councilor Jerry Kline said asking county commissioners to clarify their job description made sense.

Councilor Jerry Dieter asked if the county?s current director is working only for the county and not the cities or towns.

Holter asked Jones how many clients have been referred to him by the county director.

?Maybe one,? said Jones, who has worked 18 months for the city.

Councilor Chad Adkins said if the city doesn?t have its own economic development director, it can?t count on anybody else to help.

Definitions

Heitschmidt said knowing what the county is directing its staff to do would be helpful.

?If they are taking tourism, we could do an interlocal agreement on that,? he said, adding that he believes the county?s staff person is working with communities that don?t have a development director.

Councilor Melissa Mermis asked that if the county staff person is working with tourism, would the city consider using county services in that area?

Heitschmidt said: ?Maybe. I think that is what (Holter) wants to consider. I think a resolution from here should be requesting from (the county) what does it see their role as and where their emphasis is going to be.?

Holter said: ?We all understand it can no longer be 12 cities working independently and a county working independently when our population base is now 12,208. We have got to eliminate duplication of efforts and primarily duplication of expenses.?

Holter said the city will draft a resolution for council approval as a request to go to the commissioners for their input.

Local versus regional

Heitschmidt asked the council to consider whether the city needs an economic development director.

?We could have a very good debate over this issue,? he said. ?I would go back to things placed in our care over the last several decades that really requires us to finish a project that was started.?

Heitschmidt was referring to the business and industrial park.

Holter said the current trend in economic development is going toward regionalization, citing South Central Economic Development Foundation and north central Kansas where a larger geographic area is pulling together resources, finances, talents and sometimes fixed assets.

?If it was a clean slate, does this council believe there is potential in being regionalized or remaining localized?? he said.

Adkins said: ?It goes back to our visioning process, and I don?t think we can only be local in my opinion. If we aren?t growing, we are dying.?

Mermis said she would be concerned about getting a fair representation of Marion if there was a regional economic development director.

?How do we get represented in that regional group, and how can we market for Marion versus Hillsboro to get a business coming to Marion County??

Changing the mindset

Holter said the concept that would be to move the mindset from competition to cooperation.

Holter said a large segment of the community is open to exploring new options, but another large segment is comfortable with the status quo.

?My personal opinion is that the longer we foster communities within our county in direct adversarial positions, I don?t think either community or any of our 12 cities will win long-term,? he said.

Heitschmidt said he believes the council needs to move forward regarding a new economic development director for the city.

?What (Holter) is talking about may take several months, a year or two, but for this position, we can?t stop mid-stream from what we are doing and go down this other path,? he said.

Filling the city?s position doesn?t mean shutting off the broader conversation, he added.

?If we don?t discuss it or think about it, we will never have a chance to explore it.?

Heitschmidt said he can envision a different county economic development position than what exists now.

?I could see the county, Marion and Hillsboro as the lead entities in developing that and taking a different focus from where we are all at,? he said.

Other business

In other business, the council:

? heard the first reading of the charter ordinance relating to the election of officers, terms, transitions to November elections, appointment of officers and nomination petitions.

? thanked Jones for his contributions during the 18 months he served as economic development director.

? approved changing the hours requirement for non-exempt law enforcement officers from 40 to 43 hours to meet current guidelines. The changes are regarding overtime and compensatory time.

Time in excess of 86 hours per pay period will be awarded as flex time at the rate of 1.5 hours per hour worked in excess of 86 hours.

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