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Novak wants economic money back

Staff writer

A commissioner’s call for an economic development corporation founded by the county to return $120,000 to taxpayer coffers sparked an hour’s discussion at Monday’s meeting.

“Over the past two years, we supported the work of a great group of volunteers,” commission chairman Dianne Novak said.

She added that she’s been getting “a lot of phone calls” from people wondering what benefit the county is getting from that money.

“I’m recommending to my fellow commissioners that we discontinue our present course and that all our money be returned to the county,” Novak said. “It’s time for this commission to take responsibility to the taxpayers. I’ve brought this before the board and I’m asking for support on this.”

Commissioner Randy Dallke waffled.

“You’ve got your opinion, others have theirs,” Dallke said.

Dallke said the organization runs on volunteers and they may not have time to do everything.

“My original feelings here was that within a year, two years, I’d be looking at this and making the decision you’re looking at today,” Dallke said. “I’d like to give the board a chance, but I’d like to maybe talk to them.”

“I’m not disagreeing with everything she’s said,” Anthony Roy, Hillsboro economic development director and acting director of the corporation, said.

Roy said board treasurer Mike Beneke has done “some inappropriate things” and he has had to go “head-to-head” with him.

In February, Beneke offered to rent the former Straub building in Marion, which he had recently purchased, to the group for offices at a cost of $1,000 a month. Beneke’s offer was rebuffed after Roy spoke to corporation attorney Josh Boehm, who highly recommended against renting the building from Beneke.

Contacted after Monday’s meeting, Roy said Beneke drove to go to the home of a candidate for corporation executive director on Easter, without knowledge of the board, to talk with the candidate. Beneke arranged a tour of the county “to talk about its needs.”

City administrator Roger Holter said the city of Marion has not yet paid the $42,500 dues assigned by the corporation for 2018 because it has not gotten answers to a list of questions it submitted to the corporation board in December.

Hillsboro city administrator Larry Paine said the council decided to make 12 monthly payments instead of paying the full $42,500 dues the corporation requested.

Peabody mayor Larry Larsen said the city provided $7,500 as the first installment on the city’s $25,000 dues for 2018.

“I will say that if something were to happen, we haven’t spent a whole ton of money, maybe $10,000,” Roy said.

Roy said he believes hiring a director will help the corporation “stop floundering.” However, in the corporation’s search for a director, three candidates have been weeded out or withdrawn their applications, so now the corporation is back to square one. Board members don’t “know a great deal” about economic development, Roy said.

“I’m very nervous with this board,” Novak said.

Novak said she’d like to see the county hire a grant manager.

“It would pay for itself,” she said.

Roy said South Central Kansas Economic Development district has someone who can help with grant writing.

Becker said the discussion came back to the need for a director.

“That’s the point we need to get to,” Becker said.

“But when are we going to get to that point?” Novak asked.

“I had hoped by this time we’d have a director,” Roy said.

“I thought by February,” Novak said.

Novak said the consensus of Becker and Dallke was to give the corporation more time.

“A limited amount of time,” Becker said.

Last modified May 3, 2018

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