Economic director dispute

Staff writer

There has been a lot of disagreement with what Marion wants from an economic development director.

As a member of Marion Economic Development Incorporated and one of the biggest business owners in town, Greg Carlson has had some input on the search. He wants an enthusiastic director who can simultaneously bring in a business that employees 10 to 20 people, but can also keep existing businesses in town.

“We need some labor in town, some money brought in,” Carlson said.

MEDI president and Marion City Council member Todd Heitschmidt said the director’s primary focus should be to get a business in the industrial park, where the city already has a considerable investment. He agreed with Carlson that the ultimate goal for economic development in Marion is to grow the tax base, either with retail sales or by getting new employees inclined to purchase taxable property.

Council member Jerry Dieter thought the director might be better utilized working outside of Marion, primarily in Topeka, in an attempt to lure potential businesses.

But, he also thinks the directors’ first priority is bringing in a new hardware store.

“I hate driving to Hillsboro for $5 worth of lumber and paying $3 in gas,” Dieter said.

However, the biggest disagreement currently waged between the city and MEDI is how the development director should be paid.

Although the position has been advertised with a salary of $35,000, Mayor Mary Olson is concerned that the city will not be able to pay a qualified director with the current funding setup. Previously the city had used a .75 percent sales tax increase to pay the directors’ salary and expenses of $71,039. But, the majority of the funds raised from the tax increase went to fund buildings and land in Marion’s industrial park including Cardie’s Oil and Tire, the Airstream Guy, and Arlies Paint, Body, and Glass.

The city was expecting lease payments to cover much of bonded costs at the industrial park, Olson said. While Cardie’s and Airstream are paying rent, the city is $198,000 in the hole after Arlie’s went under this past fall.

“I believe the money coming from sales tax is enough to pay the lease on Arlie’s and pay a director,” Heitschmidt said.

Heitschmidt also said a current priority is to sell the property and recoup much of that cost.

Expressed in a memo to Olson, MEDI wants the Marion Economic Development Director to be a full-time position funded by the city. They also want the director to report to MEDI, with the group providing evaluations. The city council would serve a supervisory role with the director submitting semi-regular reports.

This directive did not sit well with Olson, who prefers the city have more control over an employee it is paying. She thinks there may be a solution to this quandary.

Olson said she talked with Clint Seibel, Hillsboro Economic Development Director, about Marion’s situation. Seibel is paid in combination by Hillsboro Development Corporation and with taxes from the city of Hillsboro. Hillsboro currently pays 86.83 percent of his salary, HDC pays 6.7 percent, and Hillsboro Ventures pays 6.7 percent.

Seibel has been Hillsboro’s Economic Development Director more than five years. He said the city has paid a higher percentage of that salary over time. The private funds, raised through the Hillsboro Community Foundation, have dissipated over time.

Although he said the city has already made an investment in funding an economic development director, Heitschmidt said MEDI would be interested in raising money through donations from local businesses and residents. The donations from local residents would be tax deductable. He added that MEDI would not want to make that effort if the director was not an employee of MEDI.

Carlson echoed Heitschmidt’s comments saying MEDI is not interested in raising funds to pay the salary of economic development director.

MEDI has raised money in the past, $100,000 in E-Community low-interest loans, Heitschmidt said. Loans are available to any business, but only one has been paid to Cindy’s Family Café, formerly Downtown Eatery. Heitschmidt said there have been more than a half dozen inquiries, but people have not completed the application process.

“Some people think it’s lengthy,” Heitschmidt said of the application process.

Before the city of Hillsboro would pay more of Seibel’s salary, it evaluated the necessity of an economic development director. Seibel said one of the key factors in his retention was the fact that Hillsboro has paid six E-Community loans in his tenure.

 

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