ON VIDEO: You can watch the economic development tug-of-way by clicking here for the webcast video; it starts around the 50-minute mark
The expected next turn in economic development in Rome and Floyd County turned ugly Monday night.
And yet by the end of a prolonged exchange of pros and cons, a concept to work with the county and the Rome Floyd Development Authority to bring on a new economic development push won by an 8-0 vote.
That despite there being no “plan,” especially for funding, after the first year; just a concept. Or as Rome City Commissioner Evie McNiece described it: A pretty box with a bow on top but, when you open it, there’s nothing inside.
There’s only a concept that has Rome and Floyd County hiring the Rome Floyd Development Authority to lead a new industrial recruitment push. That idea was picked apart by McNiece — earning her applause from those attending the meeting – and Commissioner Wendy Davis.
It didn’t matter. Commissioner Craig McDaniel, one of the architects in taking economic development away from the Rome Floyd Chamber, urged his colleagues to vote yes on the concept or else find the community falling further behind when competing with other areas.
As is becoming the disturbing norm for local government, the public had no advance notice of the plan or concept or outline other than a column in Saturday’s Hometown Headlines. The vague city agenda only said economic development would be discussed at the caucus prior to the commission meeting and, later in the meeting, by Mayor Bill Collins. Hometown Headlines had asked for the caucus presentation twice last week and again on Monday. Zero response other than City Manager Sammy Rich was said to have been busy last week working on it. We responded by saying we were fully staffed all weekend and would appreciate a version any time it was ready. All future inquiries to city government will be in the form of Open Records Requests.
What apparently was presented at caucus: Equal first-year payments from the city and county, $150,000 each, and financial cooperation from the development authority to hire the three-member staff to direct future industrial recruitment.
It was McNiece, ever the numbers person, who pointed out that there’s already $360,000 a year going to the development authority from local taxpayers. It involves the “payment in lieu of taxes” concept where an industry pays the authority rather than Tax Commissioner Kevin Payne’s office. As McNiece says, local taxpayers are now being asked to chip in another $300,000 on top of that — and that’s only for year one. There’s been no pro forma, future planning or P & L beyond that point, she said.
Commissioners instead were urged to embrace the concept. As McNiece said in a decidedly snarky comment, the real plan is to “figure it out as we go.” Again, she protested, saying change without a plan “can be a disaster.”
That said, commissioners voted yes on the concept. As McDaniel, up for re-election this fall, said something needs to be done now or else Rome and Floyd County could find itself in the same spot four years from now. He called his months of work with the county and others on the topic among the most difficult things he’s done in his career.
Commissioner Bill Irmscher, citing his 30 years in the economic development environment, said the concept had more yesses to it than nos.
Collins said a new economic development push was needed and that, as mayor, he’ll continue to push for more opportunity for the city.
McNiece, emphatically saying she supports and embraces economic develop, said the concept left the city with “nothing to hang our hat on.”
Davis, again concerned about the lack of notice and presentation to the public, summarized it all: “What we have now is a concept, not a plan.”
But it passed unanimously with a caveat that it was basically agreeing to work with the county and development authority on economic development.