The Van Wert County Courthouse

Friday, Jun. 14, 2024

Council discusses development job

DAVE MOSIER/independent editor

Delphos Safety-Service Director Greg Berquist (left), immediate past president of the Van Wert County Economic Development Advisory Group, speaks to Van Wert City Council on Thursday, while Denise Frey, current president of the group, listens. (Dave Mosier/Van Wert independent)

The decision by the Van Wert County Economic Development Advisory Group’s Executive Committee to maintain its relationship with the Ohio State University Extension basically came down to dollars and cents — and expediency. That doesn’t mean, though, that the decision is a universally popular one.

Delphos Safety-Service Director Greg Berquist, the immediate past president of the advisory group, explained the reasons for the decision during a special City Council meeting held Thursday evening in Council Chambers.

The fact that OSU Extension pays for a good portion of the expenses of the local economic development office, including benefits and training, while Extension officials were also cooperative in allowing for changes in the development director’s job description, were factors that played into the decision to maintain the relationship that has been in place for more than a decade, Berquist noted.

Finances played a major part in the decision, since the City of Van Wert contributes approximately $38,500 from its hotel-motel tax revenues to the development office and the Van Wert County Board of Commissioners adds another $11,000 to the pot for a total of nearly $50,00 — less than half of the more than $100,000 needed to fund the office.

While having a development director under local control has its benefits, finding the money to pay that person and the other expenses of the office — and deciding what entity would then control the position — were both considered obstacles to doing away with the current contract with OSU Extension. The continuing contract, which renews automatically on an annual basis, could be non-renewed, but only with a year’s notice.

Money was probably the biggest factor. City Auditor Martha Balyeat has said that hotel-motel tax revenues have declined this year, largely because of lower occupancy at local hotels and motels. Some of the decrease in room occupancy has come because of the completion of local wind farm construction. The wind turbine projects brought a number of construction workers to the area, most of which stayed in local hotels and motels. With those projects completed, and few new projects currently scheduled, room occupancy has declined.

Furthermore, while income tax revenues are up this year, state funding has decreased, leaving Van Wert and other local government subdivisions struggling to get by financially.

Local control was another issue that Berquist has addressed on several occasions, and he again noted that finding a way to allow local government to share control of the development office would be difficult to do.

Nevertheless, a City Council member remained upset over the firing of former development director Sarah Smith, while at least two others were unhappy about the fact that the OSU Extension controls the hiring and firing in the local development office.

Councilman At-Large Jeff Agler spoke vehemently about the way Smith was fired without local input or foreknowledge, but Berquist said that, because of privacy and other issues, Extension’s policy is not to do so.

Agler also said he still feels the development office should be under local control, adding his opinion that funding could be found for the program.

“If we feel it’s important, we could find the funding,” he noted.

Councilman At-Large Stan Agler and others also railed about the lack of information given to Council about negotiations with OSU Extension over the development contract, especially when Mayor Don Farmer was involved in the talks, and said they wanted better communication in the future. Agler noted that, although there is no Council representative on the Economic Development Advisory Group’s Executive Council, which is responsible for administering the contract with OSU, he feels Council deserves to know what is going on with the contract, since Council is responsible for funding the program.

Although some concerns remained after Thursday’s meeting, most Council members acknowledged that the OSU Extension program was the best way to quickly find another person for the development director’s position.

Third Ward Councilman Stuart Jewett said he felt City Council should continue to review the situation each year, but noted that having an economic development director in a reasonable time was critical to local development efforts.

“We’v e got to keep the wheels turning,” Jewett said.

Berquist said Extension officials hope to have a replacement for Smith hired by sometime in December.

POSTED: 09/28/12 at 7:39 am. FILED UNDER: News