Leavenworth County commissioners discussed economic development when they met Tuesday for a work session.

Leavenworth County commissioners discussed economic development when they met Tuesday for a work session.

Commissioners discussed a possible economic development policy for the county as well as funding for the Leavenworth County Port Authority and Leavenworth County Development Corporation.

No action was taken during the work session. But Commission Chairman Doug Smith said commissioners were in agreement on asking the Port Authority or LCDC to provide quarterly reports. Smith said there was also agreement among commissioners to set goals when working on the county budget for 2020.

The Port Authority is an economic development organization that was created through an agreement between the County Commission and the city of Leavenworth. LCDC serves as a partner organization to the Port Authority. The county government provides funding to both organizations.

County Administrator Mark Loughry said the issue of economic development was discussed Tuesday after Commissioner Vicky Kaaz had approached him about a possible countywide economic development policy.

Loughry provided commissioners with economic development policies adopted by the cities of Leavenworth and Tonganoxie. He said the Tonganoxie policy pretty much mirrors one used by the Unified Government of Wyandotte County and Kansas City, Kansas.

Loughry said he has asked LCDC in the past to provide a template for a countywide economic development policy but has never received anything.

“As a county we should be encouraging development in the cities,” Loughry said.

He said this is where the infrastructure exists.

He said there may be some industries that would not want to be located in cities. He said these are the businesses that the county would work with.

Commissioner Mike Stieben suggested the county government should have an in-house economic development person.

Loughry said this idea has been discussed during the last two years. He said creating such a position can be included in preparations for the 2020 budget.

Stieben said the county provides about $250,000 in funding each year to the Port Authority and LCDC.

He suggested that amount could be reduced by $50,000 to allow the county to have an economic development person who is responsible to the County Commission.

According to County Clerk Janet Klasinski, the county government is providing combined funding of $287,333 this year to the Port Authority and LCDC.

Smith said once the county adopts an economic development policy, commissioners will have to figure out how to fund incentives.

“There’s going to have to be a little money sitting there,” he said.

Loughry said many economic development incentives would come in the form of tax abatement.

Stieben said he has heard concerns regarding whether the county is receiving a return on its investment in the Port Authority and LCDC.

Commissioner Chad Schimke argued that a business in the private sector with a budget the size of the county budget would spend more than $250,000 on sales and marketing.

Stieben suggested the Port Authority and LCDC have been responsible for the creation of less than 10 jobs in the last five years. He argued the organizations may claim credit for things that should be credited to others.

Steve Jack, executive director of LCDC, did not attend Tuesday’s work session. But he provided figures to the Times arguing that LCDC’s efforts have led to 446 new jobs from 2014-2018.

Kaaz said she agrees there needs to be accountability. But she suggested the Port Authority can come to the commission to make recommendations regarding the disbursement of funding.

She suggested representatives from the Port Authority can meet with commissioners on a quarterly basis before the county disburses funds.

Smith said he would like to hear quarterly updates. He said county residents can watch videos of the presentations.

Videos of regular county commission meetings are posted on the county’s website. Work sessions are not recorded.

Stieben said he agrees the Port Authority or LCDC should be reporting to the commission. He also said commissioners should insist that LCDC provide a suggested economic development policy to the county.

Commissioners will meet again today for their regular weekly meeting.

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