The staff of the Leavenworth County Development Corporation, along with its board members and those from the Leavenworth County Port Authority, answered questions Wednesday in a budget meeting with the Leavenworth County Commission that lasted more than an hour and a half.
The meet came after the commission decided to move the whole of the two organizations' budget requests, or $348,815, to the “enhancement” column of the preliminary budget.
There the proposed allocation sits alongside more than $2 million of other enhancements from different departments. The county has about $900,000 to fund those requests and avoid raising the property tax levy.
Steve Jack, executive director of LCDC, touted the economic development record of both his organization, which has a paid staff and focuses on marketing the county for industry and “primary business” and the LCPA, which is led by a five-member board and focuses on direct economic development by offering incentives to new businesses and, in some cases, buying and selling real estate.
“All told, the two organizations working together have helped add about 1,000 jobs and about $15 million in property valuation,” he said.
That includes some current projects which LCDC and the LCPA are working with the cities to accomplish. And Jack added that the organizations do so with less funding than other groups in places like Topeka.
But just how much, and where the two groups' funding was coming from and going, was what commissioners said they were interested in.
“As an economic development engine, I'm very glad that you've evolved,” Commissioner Dennis Bixby said. “Your charter didn't keep up with that and now we have a situation where the city of Leavenworth and the county commission have equal say but they don't have equal contribution.”
Bixby was referring to the fact that the county alone funds LCPA but decisions on the board members are made jointly by the city and the county. LCDC is funded by a formula in which each of the four major cities make contributions based on equal parts population and assessed valuation, though the city of Leavenworth is currently considering the withdrawal of its funding for 2014. But the county also makes an annual contribution not based on that formula, and some of the port authority's funding also goes to LCDC.
LCPA Chairman Terry Andrews said he didn't know how or why the county ended up footing the bill for the port authority alone, though he said at some point in the group's 44-year existence, county officials asked them to become more “active” and increased funding. Since then, he said he believes the groups have served a purpose beyond even what the numbers tell.
“I think the synergies created between these two organizations ― it would be a shame to see that come apart,” Andrews said. “Because I think we all have been for the last two or three years pulling toward the same common goal.”
Page 2 of 2 - Commissioners also asked about the reserve accounts of the two organizations.
“Can you not do without our contribution this year?” Bixby asked.
Jack said the balance of those accounts together were near $1.2 million, with LCDC's reserves being $250,000 of that total. But out of the remaining port authority balance, the organization could have to fund a number of incentives to pending projects, the largest of which is a $280,000 extension of a gas line to a property in Tonganoxie for an Army Reserve Center to be built on the site. If all of the potential projects go through, the remaining balance would be about $600,000, from which LCDC and the LCPA would have to pay operations costs for the next year to make up the withdrawals of funding from both the city of Leavenworth and the county.
Bixby said his goal in questioning the was not to get rid of either group, nor did he see either as a bad investment, but he said he was looking for some clarity.
“When I see ambulances and sheriffs and basically every department has a need above what they had last year, and we don't have near enough supply of money to go around, I start looking for money on shelves,” he said.
Commissioner Clyde Graeber said he supported the organizations.
“If we don't have a vital economic development department in this county, how are we going to Wyandotte County, Johnson County and those other areas?” he asked.
The commission is not making final decisions on its budget this week, but did appear to leave the economic development funding for LCDC and LCPA among the rest of the roughly $2 million of enhancements preserved for further consideration.