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Revamped EDC plans to keepworking

Officials say they will privately reconstitute the organization and continue until the end of the year.

By SAUNDRA AMRHEIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 19, 2001


The Economic Development Commission will remain open for business at least until the end of this year after revamping itself next month, officials announced Wednesday at the group's last public meeting.

The EDC board voted to reorganize, elect members and officers and adopt a financial plan at its next meeting May 17, more than a week after its contract with the county expires.

That meeting will be closed to the public, as the organization will be operating strictly on private money at that point, officials said. Also, Brooksville city officials notified the EDC in late March that it was withdrawing from the public-private partnership because the county was terminating its contract with the group.

During the meeting, County Commissioner Chris Kingsley, the county's liaison to the EDC, said he likely would not be back to the next meeting but would wait for direction from his fellow commissioners before making a final decision.

"I don't think there'd be a reason for me to, and I don't think there'd be direction for me to," he said.

Kingsley was the sole vote against the majority's move to rename the EDC "transition team" to the "reorganization team," and he abstained from the vote to settle the reorganization and financial plan at the next meeting.

Kingsley said he thought it was senseless for him to vote on the matters because he would not be part of the new board and because the County Commission wanted the EDC to turn over its files and projects.

"We thought the idea was to transfer this to the county," he said. Kingsley added there was a possibility of a conflict between the EDC's continued efforts and those of the county until the release of a University of Florida study on Hernando County's future. The study is expected to be released this summer.

But EDC board member Len Tria disputed that, saying the EDC wanted to work with the county but decided to continue its work because the county did not appear equipped to do so during talks to end the contract.

"There was absolutely no plan in place," Tria said. "We certainly want to work with the county because this is our home. I have my grandchild growing up here."

Kingsley said the county might have been able to do more but added that the EDC killed that opportunity when it refused to turn over its documents about pending projects.

"There was an opportunity on both sides," Kingsley said.

Tria and other members chastised Kingsley for not defending the EDC during County Commission meetings.

"We're constantly being called names," Tria said. "Chris, why don't you tell them next time, here are the projects we're working on, that our finances are not in disarray?"

He was referring to six ongoing projects outlined during Wednesday's meeting by EDC vice president Robert Buckner. The assistance provided by the EDC to those six companies is a large reason why the agency needs to stay afloat, members said.

However, the EDC already has taken credit for two of those projects in last year's annual report. The other four are expanding or new electronics, manufacturing or distribution companies, Buckner said.

Tria's reference to the finances centered on the report released at the meeting by EDC board member Morris Porton, who analyzed the EDC's books and released payments and income in both the public and private accounts from January through March.

At the end of March, the EDC had about $15,000 in private money, the reports show. Porton said the total amount of public funds held by the EDC totals about $39,000, most of which will be returned to the county after the EDC pays an outstanding bill to an audit company for about $2,500 and some operating expenses.

"We're not marketing, we're not really doing anything but operating," Porton said. Despite that, the phones keep ringing with inquiries, EDC officials said.

Asked why the EDC needed to spend money on marketing if it receives calls without it, Porton said the inquiries are likely from past advertisements.

The finances show payroll, mortgage and other expenses plus a $1,300 payment from the public sector account to the EDC to reimburse it for utility bills paid on the building it owns at the Hernando County Airport.

County Administrator Paul McIntosh says the county still lacks a plan on how to handle economic development after its contract with the EDC expires. He plans to discuss it with the County Commission at Tuesday's meeting.

"I'm looking at some in-house options, but I haven't finalized them yet," he said.

County Commissioner Diane Rowden, an EDC critic, said she wants the commission to continue pursuing the EDC documents while focusing on the future and the university report. She scoffed at the EDC's statement that it needed to take responsibility for economic development in the county's absence.

"Oh, please, like they are doing us the favor," she said.

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