2/3/2019 6:05:00 PM Harrison County commissioner: Time to 'get off cans' for economic development
A lengthy discussion ended Monday night with the Harrison County Council voting in favor of funding the construction of Research Boulevard, a road set to go along the north side of Interstate 64 at the Lanesville interchange.
The project calls for $1.7 million that would finish construction of Research Boulevard, from Crandall-Lanesville Road north of the interstate to the current end of Research Boulevard near Areva Drive. The road is expected to attract new business and development to the area.
The county received several bids from companies looking to do the work. Only E & B Paving submitted a bid that is less than the $1.7 million approved.
The funding barely was approved, with only four councilmembers supporting the motion.
The county will use funds from its Economic Development Income Tax (EDIT) to cover the costs. Some councilmembers wanted to see the funding come with a stipulation that the money is paid back.
Councilman Kyle Nix made a motion for the money to be used as a loan, with the Harrison County Economic Development Corp., which owns the property, finding a way to payback all or some of the money within no defined time frame.
"We can't pay that much back," Darrell Voelker, executive director of the HCEDC, said.
Voelker added it doesn't work for the corporation's debt structure, and recommendations in the past is the group will have to buy land and give it away to attract business.
Nix's motion to make the funding a loan failed with Councilman Ross Schulz the other supporter. Schulz had also suggested seeing 25 percent of the loan paid back, an idea which did not get support.
Councilman Gary Byrne wanted to table the decision until the council had more information about the county's riverboat fund. That's when Commissioner Kenny Saulman decided to step up and tell the council to give economic development a chance.
"We've had this riverboat for how many years now, 20?" Saulman said to the council. "What have we done for economic development? We haven't spent nearly any money at all for economic development."
Saulman said the county has spent money in all other aspects of government and it's time to stop shooting down ideas around growing jobs in the county over fear the riverboat is going to leave. He added if it does leave, the county needs other employers to keep people in town.
"We need to get off our cans and get busy and get something going for economic development," Saulman said.
The issue was discussed for roughly 40 minutes during the meeting. It ended with Councilman Donnie Hussung making a motion to fund the work through EDIT, adding it would get business in the county and add jobs.
Nix, Byrne and Schulz opposed the motion.
Councilwoman Jennie Capelle said the council should support this kind of project or businesses might begin to wonder if investing or starting in Harrison County is a good idea. She added the payback to the county is the jobs economic development creates.
Council president Holli Castetter said the EDIT fund had more than $2 million at the end of 2018. With the state's revenues promised to the county for this year, the fund will still have approximately $400,000 in it without the council spending any money out of the county's riverboat fund.
The Harrison County Council's next meeting will be Monday, Feb. 11, at 7 p.m. at the Government Center.