Montgomery to boost development agency funding : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|Montgomery to boost development agency funding|
|Village board votes 5-1 to approve MEDC's request for $38,000 |
|by John Etheredge|
The Montgomery Village Board will increase its funding to the Montgomery Economic Development Corporation (MEDC).
Board members voted 4-1 Monday evening to approve a request from the agency for an additional $38,000 for the village's current fiscal year ending April 30, 2014.
The extra funds will serve to increase the village's financial support for the agency to $93,000.
Funds for the payment will come from reserves in the village's general fund, according to Jeff Zoephel, village administrator.
Zoephel said the village will also budget a total of $93,000 as its contribution to the MEDC in subsequent fiscal years.
During a committee meeting last week, Dr. Neil Schlupp, MEDC executive board chairman, told the board the agency needs the additional revenue to continue operations and to increase its business attraction and growth efforts.
As a non-profit, public-private agency, the MEDC relies on contributions from the village and its private business partners to cover its expenses, Schlupp said.
He cited figures that showed the village provided annual contributions of $100,000 to the MEDC during its first three years of operation, but those contributions were cut nearly in half to $55,000 beginning in 2010.
At the same time, Schlupp said a number of the agency's business partners withdrew their memberships due to the recession.
Schlupp said the MEDC has made several cuts in its budget over the past three years as its revenues dwindled.
Those cuts, he said, included eliminating support staff in its office at 200 Webster Street and reducing the salary of the agency's executive director, Char Coulombe-Fiore by 25 percent.
Schlupp, who owns the building that houses the MEDC's office, said he also reduced the rent he charges the agency.
Meanwhile, he said the agency increased its fund-raising and new member attraction efforts.
Schlupp provided the board with a breakdown of how the agency would spend the additional $38,000.
He said $2,000 would go towards business retention activities including meetings and special events; $5,500 would be directed toward business attraction activities; $2,500 for increased marketing and publicity; $13,000 for property and equipment, including rent, utilities and a computer; and $15,000 would go toward personnel costs and benefits.
Schlupp noted the agency is currently operating with computers and software that dates to 2006 and 2007.
Of the additional $15,000 that would be spent on personnel and benefits, Schlupp said $8,000 would be added to Coulombe-Fiore's salary; $2,000 would be used for education for Coulombe-Fiore so she can maintain required certifications; and $5,000 would cover the cost for a part-time office assistant.
Schlupp said the MEDC hired Coulombe-Fiore in 2009 at a starting salary of $84,000, but later reduced her salary $20,000 to $64,000 as part of the agency's cost-cutting effort.
"She pays for her own health benefits and she pays for her own retirement benefits all through her salary," he said.
Board member Steve Jungermann said he absolutely supports the MEDC's funding request.
"They are our partner," Jungermann said of the MEDC, adding, "Their whole goal is to help Montgomery grow and be a better place to bring in business. I think if we don't support that we are shooting ourselves in the foot."
Board member Doug Marecek agreed with Jungermann.
"I'm absolutely in support of giving them the tools they need to do their work effectively," Marecek said.
Noting that he has a professional background in marketing, Marecek said, "I see a pretty big value in marketing and that's what it looks like the MEDC does. They are our voice, our presence when we can't send staff out to some of these conference and be a champion for our cause."
Over the past two years, board member Stan Bond had questioned the village's continued support for the MEDC, but said he has changed his mind.
Bond said the concerns he had about the agency were due to a lack of effective communications and "the belief our two (village) representatives (on the MEDC Board) weren't keeping us informed," about the agency's success, objectives and goals.
However, Bond said he has seen a "significant improvement" in communication and believes it is "appropriate to recognize that" by approving the agency's funding request.
"What we are looking for the MEDC to do is to stabilize and grow our economic base, bring jobs to the community and bring the types of jobs to the community that people can afford to raise families and buys homes with. I think we're seeing important steps in the right direction there, so I am inclined to support this (funding request) as well," Bond said.
Board member Denny Lee took a different view than Bond on the communication issue between the board and the MEDC.
"I think the (village) board has changed. I don't think it's the information. I think the board here is a little bit more directed towards economic development whereas in the past the board wasn't that responsive," Lee said.
Lee added, "I know what Char (Coulombe-Fiore) has done. I know other towns have hired their own economic development directors for six figures and hired non-certified economic development directors."
Lee said Coulombe-Fiore has played a vital role on several economic development projects in the village, including a $24 million addition to Gusto Packing Co.
Village President Matt Brolley noted that the MEDC serves as an extra department for the village, devoted to fostering business growth.
"What it amounts to is for $93,000 we're getting an economic development department whose sole focus is to promote Montgomery and bring jobs and development to our town," Brolley said, adding, "Nobody benefits more than the village and our residents so I absolutely support this (funding) request."
Schlupp thanked Brolley and the board for their support.
Addressing Bond directly, Schlupp said, "Thank you for your comments and I appreciate your ability to come forward and let us know that we are improving. We will make an effort to continue that relationship. That meant a lot to me personally, too."
Board member Pete Heinz, however, voiced opposition to the funding request.
"I'm not so sure we can't go back to the way we had it when (former village community development director) Amy (Furfori) was here," Heinz said. "She brought a lot of business here and she worked for the village. That's the way I'm looking at it. If we want to have economic development we should hire someone to work for the village."
Board member Theresa Sperling was absent from Monday's meeting and did not participate in the vote.