Although not unanimous, the Great Bend City Council Tuesday night approved a new economic development plan for the city, one months in the making that replaces a decades-old model. Instead of contracting with the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce, the new 501 c(6) non-profit Great Bend Economic Development Commission would be guided by a board made up of city and chamber representatives.
“We feel this is a good, positive move,” said Councilman Dana Dawson. On May 6, Mayor Joe Andrasek appointed a five-person committee made up of himself, Dawson and council members Jolene Biggs, Cory Urban, and now-resigned member Chad Somers to study the agreement with the chamber.
“There were a lot of hours and discussion that went into this,” he said. The goal of the committee was to analyze how the city handles economic development.
In June, the council voted to terminate its Agreement for Services with the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce for economic development activities and explore other possible options for addressing economic development. Since that time, the mayoral committee has been meeting with representatives appointed by the chamber to discuss restructuring the system.
Despite both parties working on ways to restructure efforts, on June 17 the council approved ending the contract with the chamber with the city wanting more oversight on economic development.
But, “I don’t understand why this has to be a separate entity,” Councilman Barry Bowers said. “I don’t see the need for a separate structure.”
At first, the committee looked at the city hiring a full-time employee to coordinate economic development. This new city position would have been held in direct oversight by an executive committee comprised of members of the city’s governing body as well as representation from the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce.
But, they dropped this idea, opting for the commission.
“This is a very common format,” said Mark Calcara, a chamber board member who served on the committee. It is used in Dodge City and Garden City.
“It adds another level of transparency and accountability,” he said. “This is a real good deal for the community.”
It allows for the potential of some third-party funding from the business community, capitalizes on partnerships between the city, businesses and the chamber and assuages public concerns about openness, Calcara said.
This also makes an attractive package when seeking a qualified economic development director to fill the post, Calcara said.
“The idea is to have this up and running by January first,” he said.
Councilmen Andrew Erb and Brock McPherson joined all four council members on the committee in voting for the measure. Bowers was the lone “no” vote.
“There are still some details to figure out,” Calcara said. Still, “I think this has all the makings of being a very successful program.”
According to the proposal, the new Economic Development Commission will be governed by a five-member board of directors - two council members, two chamber representatives and one at-large member. Ex-officio members will include the mayor, city administrator, chamber executive committee chairperson and Convention and Visitors Bureau director.
The chairperson shall be selected by the board. City Council members shall apply to serve and applicants will be reviewed by and voted on by the entire city council.
The Chamber of Commerce positions shall be selected by the chamber. It is recommended that an application process be used for selection.
The at-large position shall be filled through an application process. The applicant shall be selected by the other four board members.
A board member’s term shall be two-years and renewable for one additional two-year term. If a member serves two consecutive terms, he/she must wait one term before again being eligible to serve.
The commission will hire a full-time director and the director’s office will be in the Great Bend Events Center. A portion of the former Harper office complex behind the center shall be renovated to house operations.
Some portions may also be made available for additional conference “break-out session” rooms. A temporary office shall be established adjacent to the current Events Center offices until renovations are complete.
An architect will be engaged, in a minimal capacity, to provide conceptual drawings and construction plans.
Renovation costs shall not exceed $100,000. This money will come from funds already set aside for economic development.
The biggest portion of this cost will be heating and air conditioning. Bowers also questioned all the needed work being done for the set limit.
The board shall, on an annual basis, make a funding request to the city council. City funding will be provided by the 20% portion of the half-cent sales tax designated for economic development.
Detailed, monthly financial reporting will be provided to the city council. The city council shall have the final authority regarding the level of city funding.
At the June 3 meeting, the council tabled ending the contract until June 17 in response to pleas from Great Bend Chamber of Commerce Board members who attended the meeting in force. The chamber board felt it was felt left out of the discussions.
It was back in December 2018 that the city and the chamber approved a revamped contract for economic development services to, in part, improve communication with the chamber and require more accountability for eco devo efforts. The old contract was drafted in 1999 when the city first contracted with the chamber and had not been changed since.
The contract automatically renewed on Jan. 1. So when the council gave City Administrator Kendal Francis the green light last September, it allowed the city to give the chamber the requisite 90-day notice that it wanted changes.
Jan Peters serves as president and chief executive officer of both the chamber and economic development and she endorsed the idea to revise the contract.
Historically, the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development had a contract with the city to handle its economic development efforts. This involved business recruitment and retention, and workforce development.
Economic development received $153,000 this year through the general fund. That is up from $135,000 in 2017 and 2018.
The chamber makes an annual funding request. The city-funded portion amounts to about a third of the chamber’s annual budget.
The money for the chamber comes from a city half-cent sales tax (generating 9 percent of the city’s revenue). The tax is split three ways among economic development, infrastructure improvements and property tax relief.
The economic development portion is expected to generate $370,000 in 2019, up from $350,000 in 2017 and 2018. This also funds part of Community Coordinator Christina Hayes’ department with the remaining balance transferred into an economic development fund.
Great Bend City Council meeting at a glance:
Here is a quick look at what the Great Bend City Council did Tuesday night:
• Approved the revised economic development agreement with the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development.
• Approved a charter ordinance specifying that newly elected city officials (council members and the mayor) take office at the first council meeting in January following their November election.
• Approved repairs to a collapsed manhole on 18th Street near Baker Street.
During the recent subsurface flooding, the manhole was damaged, causing it to collapse. This damage will require a complete replacement of this structure, City Administrator Kendal Francis said.
The lowest bidder was APAC of Hutchinson which will perform the replacement for $55,533. The funds will come from a $300,000 line item designated for sewer repairs.
This and another collapsed manhole in the Twin Lakes area will be submitted to the Federal Emergency Management Agency as flood damages. It is hoped the city could be reimbursed for at least a portion of the cost.
• Rejected the replacement of asphalt on Grant Street south of the Grant and 10th street improvement project by 10th and Grant project contractors Morgan Brothers of LaCrosse at a cost of $56,060. Instead, the council opted put the project out for bid.
• Held a 15-minute executive session to discuss “economic development business retention and expansion data relating to financial affairs or trade secrets of corporations, partnerships, trusts, and individual proprietorships.” The council was joined by Francis and City Attorney Bob Suelter.
No action was taken when the council returned to open session.
• Heard a Zoological Society update from Karen Neuforth.
• Approved allowing the closure of the Great Bend Brit Spaugh Zoo all day on Saturday, Oct. 26, to allow for set up and preparation for the 2019 Great Bend Zoo Boo.
• Heard a departmental update from Francis. He focused on the expected completion of the 10th and Grant improvement project in about two weeks and the ongoing effort to fix water line weeks in the city.
• Heard an economic development report from Great Bend Chamber of Commerce President Jan Peters. She focused on progress in the long-awaited Northwest Passage from Hutchinson to Lyons and the plans for a new brewery to open in downtown Great Bend next year.