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With its fate uncertain, the group delays acting on several measures and awaits guidance from the County Commission.
By BRIDGET HALL GRUMET
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 12, 2001
CRYSTAL RIVER -- As Economic Development Council members pondered a motion last week to help fund an upcoming regional work force study, president Bill Sullivan made a sobering suggestion.
"Can we put something in the motion like, 'Depending on our survival'?" Sullivan asked.
With the fate of the group uncertain, that question mark has punctuated several of the council's recent discussions. The EDC board held off on funding part of the work force study, delayed a vote on a new membership fee schedule and postponed revisions to its bylaws and the promotional CD-ROM movie because it is awaiting guidance from the County Commission.
After making a series of missteps over the past two years, the group received funding in November from the County Commission with one big string attached: Use the next six months to revamp economic development efforts into a form that the commission and the public can support.
Nearing the end of that restructuring period, EDC members are now looking forward to two upcoming public workshops to give them the advice and support they need to continue.
The first workshop is Tuesday, during the County Commission's meeting at the Masonic Building in Inverness. The council has a 3 p.m. presentation, with one hour set aside for a list of speakers who will extol the importance of planned economic development, especially under a public-private setup like the EDC.
The EDC hopes to hear comments from the public and the County Commission, a board that has supported the EDC on several 3-2 votes over the past two years, on what direction the council should take.
"That's the main thing we want to walk away with is their input," interim executive director Brett Wattles said.
The council will also host an April 4 town hall meeting at 4 p.m. in Room 166 of the Lecanto Government Building to provide another forum for public comment.
Wattles said the EDC will walk into those meetings with the backing of a "silent majority" that supports the group's mission to help local businesses grow and new industry to locate here.
"An awful lot of people out there support what this board is trying to do," Wattles said. "That silent majority is out there, and I really believe the progress this board has made over the past six months is significant."
The group last week sent a letter to members of chambers of commerce that outlined the EDC's purpose and listed its accomplishments, including assisting businesses, nearing completion of the micro-loan program, creating the job growth incentive grant program, nearing completion of the CD-ROM, establishing a Web site, and raising half of its operation funds from private donations. The other half of the group's funding comes from the county's occupational license fees, which are paid annually by all of the businesses in Citrus County.
The letter, which asks the recipient to sign a petition supporting the EDC, will also go out to all businesses that pay the occupational fees: "Even though the (EDC) has the support of all the major business associations in Citrus County, a few people claim the (EDC) doesn't have the support of the business community!" reads the letter drafted by EDC member Dave Hutchins. "Their claim is based on a lack of membership by businesses in the (EDC). They don't accept the fact that hundreds of businesses already belong to business associations that support, and have appointed a member to the (EDC) Board of Directors on their behalf."
The council has 69 dues-paying members, still short of its own goal of 200 members. In order to drive up membership and increase revenues, the group is considering a revised dues schedule that will also be presented to the County Commission on Tuesday.
The proposal would create two categories of cheaper $150 and $500 dues for smaller businesses, and five "sponsor" levels where businesses could pay up to $7,500 to support the group.
If the EDC adopted these new categories, board members said last week, the dollar amounts would be suggested guidelines, but businesses could give more or less, depending on their specific situation.
"This would broaden the membership and therefore broaden the knowledge about the EDC," Wattles said.
Wattles said he already knows of one group ready to weigh in as a sponsor in the several-thousand-dollar range: Citrus-Levy-Marion Regional Workforce Development Board, known as CLM Works.
County Commissioner Jim Fowler, the EDC board member who suggested last November that the group "fold up the tent" and rework the plan for economic development, seemed pleased last week with the EDC's direction.
"I think this (proposed dues schedule) makes our organization more viable and attractive," he said.
Economic development at crossroads (March 11, 2001)