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City discusses policy to help businesses
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McMinnville officials refrained from mentioning anyone by name during a recent discussion about using taxpayer dollars to help private businesses. A new policy gained momentum it lacked in April.
Two months ago, Dr. Jeffrey McKinley came before the city board asking for financial assistance in the installation of gutters and curbing as water run-off measures he was required by law to do in constructing a new office on the corner of Caldwell and Mullican streets.
A joint meeting of Streets and Sanitation Committee members Aldermen Rick Barnes, chairman, Billy Wood and Jimmy Bonner, and Finance Committee members Aldermen Ken Smith, chairman, Ben Newman and Mike Neal was held to consider the request.
The measure divided the alderment when Barnes, Smith and Bonner voted in favor of spending $2,350 in labor and materials for the work, while Wood, Neal and Newman voted against it.
Smith encouraged the measure for economic development within the city as, according to McKinley, he will be hiring two additional professionals and two more support staff at $260,000 a year.
Wood discouraged the measure because it would require city taxpayers to subsidize the financial expenses of someone else’s project and accused fellow members of playing “good old boy politics” for attempting to help McKinley specifically.
This time, city officials refrained from mentioning anyone by name.
“Mr. Chairman, we’ve had some discussion in the past about a request that was made of us to help one of the local businesses that is expanding and will be creating additional payroll,” said Smith. “It came to my attention we have an unwritten policy regarding sidewalks. That unwritten policy says that if that individual is willing to provide the materials, the city will go ahead and install a sidewalk for them.”
The city’s current policy is for the installation of sidewalks at existing residential properties only and does not include commercial property or the installation of curbing or storm water runoff mitigation.
Smith requested the committee allow city attorney Tim Pirtle to draw up a written policy regarding sidewalks, curbing and storm water runoff so if another commercial business owner wants to provide the materials, then the city will provide the labor.
“The next time somebody comes up to us and asks us to help them increase their business, we can do that,” said Smith. “Since we don’t have a written policy now, it would seem to me it would be beneficial for us to have a written policy so everything is done according to the letter of the law. I would ask there be a motion to that effect.”
Bonner gave a second.
“I’m not sure that this is for the attorney to draw up,” said Neal. “This board needs to set the limitations on how much money we would be willing to spend and how many man hours. If we have a large company coming in here that took up five or ten acres of land, we would be committing ourselves to, possibly, millions of dollars if we leave this open-ended.”
Smith says the committee could work with the attorney in setting the policy’s limitations. “He would have the legal expertise to put it down in the proper form and the Street and Sanitation Committee and Finance Committee can come up with the ideas to make sure they are the most prudent.”
The Industrial Development Board should be the entity working with businesses, says McMinnville Public Works director Bill Brock.
“You have a buffer in the Industrial Board,” he said. “That’s who you pay to do these types of things. It keeps the city out of bargaining and negotiating with a private company, which is tough to do. You route your money over to the IDB and the IDB can work with the company. I think that’s a better place for that kind of situation than maybe getting into industrial development here.”
Smith added, “I agree, but in the same light, when the Industrial Development Board comes to the city they have to make a specific request about what the money will be used for. In essence, if we don’t have a policy, we can’t go ahead and do it.”
“They have city money over there right now they could use,” said Brock.
Smith called for a vote and the measure passed 4-2. Barnes, Smith, Bonner and Newman voted in favor of the measure, while Wood and Neal voted against it.
Wood says he voted against the motion for two reasons — wasting taxpayer money on a project that would be done without it, and good old boy politics.
“You are not encouraging economic development by paying for storm water mitigation,” he said. “Everyone else had to do this and they did it. It’s a waste of taxpayers’ money to subsidize someone else’s project that they would have done without city assistance.”
Pirtle will begin wording on a new policy. Once approved in committee, it will be presented to the full board for its consideration.