“We (would) have the flexibility now to handle a project ourselves … or we also (would) have the option to have the group that we pay to do our economic development work in the CIC,” Commissioner Rick Lohnes said.
The money would be controlled by the county and would be used to invest in capital assets and economic development projects such as purchasing land, paying for utility extensions and studies, plus other ways commissioners choose to support a proposed project.
Administrator Nathan Kennedy presented a draft of the policy to commissioners on Wednesday. He said if it’s approved, the policy will set a precedent for Clark County.
Kennedy said the county has never had a policy that designated and earmarked money from the general fund specifically for large economic development projects.
“This is going to significantly have an impact on this community,” Kennedy said.
Kennedy said the county has the ability to set aside a half-million or more annually because of tight budgeting that has continued after the 2008 recession, the renewal of the half-percent sales tax and increased sales tax revenue.
“It’s (sales tax revenue) doing well, so we’re going to take advantage of it, but not so well that we can cut it back a quarter-percent,” Kennedy said.
Horton Hobbs, vice president of economic development for The Chamber of Greater Springfield, applauded the commissioners for working to establish the policy.
“It’s great leadership on their part, and something we are very pleased to see. We have been talking to them and working with them over the last two years about that. It’s really nice that they’ve done it, and I think it will prove to be a real competitive advantage to us as a community,” Hobbs said.
Hobbs said economic development and capital project funds need to be set aside because projects can fall short due to financial reasons or lack of infrastructure.
“To know that we’ve got a resource there to potentially help make a project come to reality is really important,” Hobbs said.
Hobbs said there have been economic development projects in the past that have hit snags and could have been helped if there had been funds set aside.
He said the policy is a “proactive” approach that will allow the county to be prepared if their resources are needed.
Hobbs declined to say if there are current projects in the works that would use the funds.
Commissioner John Detrick said the money could be used as seed money for future economic development projects.
He said years ago, county commissioners set millions aside to help establish Prime Ohio I and the former extension office.
Clark County Commissioner David Herier said the policy is a major step forward for the county.
“I think for the future of the county as a whole it’s one of the most important things that we’ve done. I really think in order for us to move forward, we have to have some ability to participate in economic development that’s over and above the funding agencies that we have dealing with it,” Herier said.
Herier said during the past year there have been projects that required short-term public ownership, but public money was unavailable.
“It’s not just seed money, but it’s a way to participate in the beginning of some situations where it’s required,” Herier said.
Herier said the funds could be used to assist in acquisitions for the county land bank, for example.
The policy comes with multiple test questions to ensure the money is spent properly, Lohnes said.
“We’re just adding adding more tools to our tool kit and more people involved in the team,” Lohnes said.