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A Times Editorial

Economic proposal requires revisions

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 24, 2001

Hernando County Administrator Paul McIntosh is prepared to throw good money after bad in the name of economic development.

At a meeting this afternoon, McIntosh is expected to recommend that the County Commission authorize him to appoint Airport Manager Bob Mattingly as the interim economic development director and raise his $60,000 annual salary by $10,000 over the next six months, an annual increase of 33 percent. McIntosh, apparently at Mattingly's request, also wants to hire two people to help Mattingly, one at $20,000 and the other at $12,000.

The commission should pare the proposal significantly and also question whether Mattingly is the right fit for the job.

From a purely fiscal point of view, the commission should reject out of hand a $10,000 temporary pay raise for Mattingly. County policy calls for a 5 percent raise in such circumstances, and even that sum may be generous, considering that no one at the county knows how much extra effort the job will require.

There is no tangible point of reference for McIntosh to assess the workload of the economic development office in Hernando County, because the county has delegated that responsibility to a private corporation for the past 4 1/2 years. The Economic Development Commission had four employees, but because they were not supervised by the county, the commission does not really know if that work force is justifiable.

Also, because the EDC has refused to turn over its records and leads on potential clients, the commission has no verifiable knowledge of what will be required to follow up on existing projects or the number of new inquiries to expect.

A temporary employee will be needed to handle clerical duties, including answering telephones, correspondence and filing. That $12,000 expenditure is arguably the most reasonable of McIntosh's recommendation.

But given the uncertainty of what else needs to be done, it would seem prudent for the commission to assign the responsibility to an interim director and direct that person to record the added workload for a few weeks. Then, if the need can be justified, hire some more temporary help.

Mattingly has a blemished history as airport manager. He was suspended for violating a county policy a few years ago and worked closely with the former director of the EDC, Rick Michael, who was forced out of his job in December. That association may work against him in the eyes of companies, local and out-of-county, who dealt with Michael.

McIntosh and the commission are only buying some time until they receive the final analysis from a University of Florida professor who is attempting to provide a blueprint for the future of economic development in Hernando County. The commission expects to have that study in hand by the end of the summer.

In the meantime, it is unclear how the county's economic development efforts will overlap those of the EDC, which intends to continue operating on private donations after the county cuts off public funding on May 8. The county was the EDC's only client, and without the annual allocation, which last year was more than $330,000, the organization's viability is in jeopardy. That taxpayer subsidy represents three-fourths of the EDC's total budget.

In addition, the EDC board is losing several members, including Commissioner Chris Kingsley, Brooksville council member Joe Johnston III, and state Sen. Ginny Brown-Waite. The departures of those members, who presumably were there to ensure some level of accountability to the public, undermines the group's credibility. Others who are there only because of their public positions, including Superintendent John Sanders and Pasco-Hernando Community College President Robert Judson, may follow suit very soon.

But the EDC's effectiveness and plans are ancillary concerns to the decision facing the commission today. We urge the commissioners to closely examine McIntosh's proposal and not simply throw more of the public's money at a lingering and undefined problem.

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