By Ken de la Bastide Kokomo Tribune
---- — The Howard County Council trimmed the county commissioner’s request for EDIT spending in 2014 by $114,000 after a lengthy, and at times, heated debate.
The county council began work on next year’s budget Wednesday and spent significant time discussing the EDIT (Economic Development Income Tax) funds.
The commissioners requested $200,000 for special projects, which included $100,000 for the new YMCA building to be built in downtown Kokomo.
The debate centered around whether the the council has the authority to approve the projects or if the commissioners have the ability to spend the money without prior council approval.
Eventually, the council voted to trim $50,000 from the special projects line, eliminated $50,000 requested for a future convention center and trimmed funding for the Greater Kokomo Economic Development Alliance from $114,000 to $100,000. The council opted to provide $50,000 for the Jackson Street Commons project to house veterans.
“The council is the fiscal body,” Councilman Stan Ortman said of council oversight. “We’re relinquishing our responsibility,” if the commissioners don’t have to get council approval prior to spending funds.
Commissioner Paul Wyman said last year the commissioners agreed to provide $1.2 million for drainage projects from EDIT funds and the council in turn would provide $200,000 for special projects.
“An agreement was reached,” Wyman said. “Now you want to change it at budget time.”
Council President Richard Miller said historically EDIT spending has been approved by the council.
Wyman said the commissioners didn’t “blow” the money last year and want discretion to fund projects without prior approval.
Ortman said that agreement was for one year.
“The council approves expenditures from the fund,” he said.
Wyman called the action by the council wrong.
Councilman Jeff Stout said accountability is the issue, adding he was OK with the $200,000 appropriation, but wants to know how the funds are used.
Miller said the council has always been notified prior to any action, but there was a change in 2013.
Concerning funding for the Greater Kokomo Economic Development Alliance of $114,000 for 2014, Councilman James Papacek said he had mixed feelings about the request.
Papacek said the county agreed to a three-year commitment, and was willing to fund it at $57,000 for the next two years.
“We’ve not received a whole lot for our money,” he said. “Give them another year and see if there are different results.”
Commissioner Tyler Moore said prior to the creation of the GKEDA, there was no timeline for the contributions previously made by the county to the partner organizations, including the chamber of commerce, Inventrek Technology Park and the downtown association.
“The Alliance is not just about bringing new jobs, but retaining what we have,” he said. “The county doesn’t have an economic development department. Our contribution is county support for businesses being here.”
Moore said the Alliance is a way for the county to have a voice in development along the Kokomo Corridor.
Councilman John Roberts said the funding for the Alliance is in unison with the city of Kokomo’s and is a good investment for the county.
The council approved $100,000 for 2014 and $50,000 for 2015.
Papacek said there was no guarantee of funding for the Alliance beyond 2015.
“We have not seen tangible results for our money,” he said. “I’m willing to give them one more chance.”
Ortman said the request for $50,000 for a possible convention center was premature until a feasibility study is completed.