Northwood City Council recently tabled an ordinance that would have created the position of economic development director because a councilman could not be at the meeting to discuss the measure.
It was also tabled at previous meetings for the same reason.
Support for the position is divided.
Administrator Pat Bacon, who backs it, said she was unsure whether council will vote for it.
The Economic Development Committee referred the matter to the Finance Committee and to a committee of the whole, said Bacon.
“What I’ve heard from council is that times are tough, this is not the time to be creating new jobs,” said Bacon. “Everyone else is laying off. My argument is, what better time do you need an economic development person than when times aren’t good. We need someone out there networking, getting grants. That’s what I need. Someone out there recruiting and bringing in businesses. When times are good, you just sit back and they come to you.”
Currently, the city employs a full-time planning, zoning and economic development coordinator. Bacon would like to see a part-time assistant in that office upgraded to full-time to deal with zoning issues, and have an economic development director focus just on development.
The city is swamped with zoning issues, said Bacon.
“It is too much for an assistant. Particularly spring through fall, when everyone is coming in for zoning permits. I know some council members just think someone comes in, fills out a form, turns it in, and they’re gone. Zoning is a lot more involved than that. It’s never a simple answer,” said Bacon.
Mayor Mark Stoner, who supported the position last year, is now opposed.
“Not at this time,” he said. “It’s no secret. Things have been terribly slow economically.”
One of the duties of the planning, zoning and economic development coordinator is economic development, he said.
“The difference between a coordinator and a director is that the coordinator has to run things past the administrator, whereas a director would not,” said Stoner. “If there’s a desire to change the title from coordinator to economic development director, without a significant pay increase, I’m all for it. But economic development is already among the responsibilities of our planning, zoning and economic development coordinator.”
The vote on council, he added, just isn’t there.
“The economy is bad,” he said.
Revenue, he added, is down because of job layoffs in the private sector.
“How are we going to look to the public if we’re growing the government while everyone else is making cutbacks?” said Stoner.
Councilman Dave Gallaher said the city needs the position.
“It’s such an important move for the city,” said Gallaher, chairman of the Economic Development Committee. “If we had our own economic development director, they could be going out and knocking on doors, and sharing information about our railroads, our interstates, our police and fire departments, the low tax base, and they could be doing it to a different business every day.”
Gallaher said the funds for the position are already in the budget.
“There would be a difference of $2,500 between what the planning, zoning and economic development coordinator is making and an economic development director would make,” he said.
“I don’t see a down side to this,” he added. “When you look at the Woodville Mall, Great Eastern Shopping Center, and down Woodville Road, you see the empty buildings. You have to ask yourself, `What could Northwood be doing to make this a better situation?’ I would like to see us, even short term, give it a try for five years, enough time to make some progress. For someone to say that times are hard, so we don’t need an economic development director, is like a business laying off its salesmen because of all the competition. When the going gets tough, that’s when you need all the salespeople - to go out and sell.”