There are so many topics to write about on the county level. The new five-member Leavenworth County Board of Commissioners has been busy finalizing action necessary to begin the rezoning of County Road 1, voting to pave a large number of arterial roads, fixing bridges, working on reconstituting the Leavenworth County Planning and Zoning Commission to include more representation from the southern part of the county including the 5th District (Tonganoxie, Linwood and rural areas) and, of course, working on economic development.

Every one of these issues, and others, including a proposed quarry near Desoto, are very important to the economic future of the county. Economic development is important as the new County Commission looks to bring positive economic growth and good jobs to our community. That is why the commissioners recently held a work session to address economic development.

Problems in this area seem to center around communication and information. One example of this is the question of just how many jobs have been “created” by the county’s current economic development organizations, the Leavenworth County Port Authority (LCPA), and the Leavenworth County Development Corporation (LCDC).

Historically, the Port Authority was set up as a special financial organization with powers to establish a port on the Missouri River. When the river port did not materialize the decision was made to maintain the entity because of special financing abilities which could be used to spur economic development and growth.

These special financing powers of the Port Authority justified continuing the organization in operation for other future economic growth efforts in Leavenworth County. One such effort was the establishment of the Urban Hess Business Center  in Tonganoxie, which is owned by the Port Authority. The organization is considered a quasi-governmental agency with a five-member board appointed jointly by the city of Leavenworth and the Leavenworth County Commission.

The Leavenworth County Development Corporation is a public-private nonprofit corporation whose goal is “... to mobilize business, civic leaders, for the cities of Leavenworth, Lansing, and Tonganoxie to maximize the county’s economic prosperity and regional competitiveness …” according to the organization’s website. The County Commission and thus county taxpayers provide a majority of funding for both organizations – $289,000 combined this fiscal year.

During the recent special election there were questions and concerns raised by all of the candidates seeking to be elected in the 5th District. The major issues focused on communication and accountability between the organizations and the county government.

That is where the issues began at our recent work session. Information was provided by county staff that only a handful of jobs have been directly created or brought into the county in recent years. Those numbers were refuted by the LCDC which resulted in the county administrator requesting a breakdown of exactly what jobs the LCDC is claiming credit for locating and bringing into the county.

The whole interaction resulted in some staff and board members of the LCDC questioning the level of trust being displayed between the organizations. Because this is such a critical area for the future of Leavenworth County, it is especially important that we get this right.

First, let me say as one of the newest commissioners it is not my intent to create a lack of trust. However, asking hard questions and getting to the actual facts about the current economic development efforts in no way should be interpreted as a lack of trust. In fact, the taxpayers expect the commissioners to demand accountability and honest facts.

Like Ronald Reagan used to say, “trust but verify.” That is exactly what the new County Commission is attempting to do. We must know what the actual facts are about job creation and the investment of millions of dollars of the taxpayer’s dollars over these many years.

During the work session it was requested that the LCDC provide an economic development plan to the County Commission and that they provide a regular report. Also discussed was the possibility of expanding economic development efforts and redistribution of a portion of the funding to hire an on-site county economic development staff member.

I am very interested in bringing higher paying and good jobs to this community. We need to light a new fire under the economic engine of Leavenworth County. The area has much to offer and part of the effort will be to market what we already have. Improving communication between all of the parties and moving forward in a manner that promotes positive economic growth is important.

If you have questions or concerns about these or other issues, please do not hesitate to contact me and perhaps we can sit down and have a longer conversation about these and other issues.

Leavenworth County Commissioner Mike Stieben represents the 5th District.