Panel backs joint effort to create economic development chief

WOODSTOCK – A Shenandoah County panel on Wednesday backed measures to hire an economic development chief.

Now it’s up to the Board of Supervisors to decide whether or not to support the initiative aimed at boosting the county’s economy.

The Industrial Development Authority board voted at its meeting Wednesday to approve a resolution of support and intent for the creation of an economic development director position. Assistant County Administrator Evan Vass provided a draft of the resolution that authority board members then tweaked before approving.

The resolution states that the IDA offers to provide funding to hire and retain a full-time director and the associated costs estimated at $150,000 per year.

IDA board Chairman Vincent Poling pointed out that a cost-sharing agreement via a resolution between the authority and the county could not bind future Boards of Supervisors to fund the position. Poling suggested that county officials look into the possibility of creating a joint service or joint powers agreement between the parties to secure funding for the position. Either agreement would require a public hearing, Poling said. The chairman went on to pose the hypothetical question of whether the IDA could take legal action against the county if supervisors failed to honor the agreement.

The proposed fiscal 2018 budget as advertised by the county did not include roughly $70,000 earmarked for an economic development position. Several supervisors who have complained publicly that the county does little to boost the local economy did not support spending taxpayer dollars on the position. Rather, some supervisors echoed the IDA’s push to change the agency’s name to an economic development authority and to have it cover the cost to hire a director at least for the first few years. Officials warned that a position with no permanent funding would likely not attract many applicants.

Some supervisors suggested recently that the IDA fund the position in its first year, Poling noted. Those supervisors also suggested that the county include in its next proposed budget funding for the position that would take money away from the local membership in the Shenandoah Valley Partnership, Poling recalled.

“I was opposed to that,” Poling said. “That’s a mistake.”

Under the proposed resolution Vass provided, the IDA would provide funding for three years at the following percentages: 50 percent in the first year; 30 percent the second year and 20 percent in the third year, for a total investment of $150,000 over the period. The IDA anticipates that the Board of Supervisors will provide the remaining funding through general fund sources, the resolution states. Furthermore, the IDA suggests the possible use of additional tax revenue generated from personal property tax assessments not anticipated during the adoption of the fiscal 2018 budget, the resolution states. The director would work as an employee of the county, not the IDA.

But one IDA member pointed out that the three-year commitment could deter someone from applying for the job if funding does not appear in place for after the period.

“See that’s where the joint powers agreement, if we can do it, comes in and that gives that person a little more stability even though it’s not set in stone,” Poling said.

The resolution also notes that the IDA recognizes that the Board of Supervisors cannot commit funding beyond the current fiscal year. Supervisors also cannot commit future boards to spend county money on the position, the resolution indicates.

“However, (the IDA) strongly petitions the current and future elected leadership of Shenandoah County to fully fund the full time economic development director’s position, related costs and existing and future partnerships and regional economic development efforts beyond those years the IDA participates in partial funding,” the resolution states.

IDA members decided not to include in the draft resolution statements that called for the Board of Supervisors to refund the $150,000 to the authority by Dec. 31, 2020. County officials and authority members have voiced caution that the IDA lacks a steady flow of revenue. The cost to cover the position could hurt the IDA financially, officials have said.