After a lengthy discussion at the Mitchell County Supervisors meeting on Jan. 12, the Board voted to table a decision on creating the position of Economic Development Director, under the auspices of Mitchell County, to work with the Economic Development Commission.
Tony Stonecypher is currently the Economic Development Director.
“This would be a position that basically Tony has right now,” Steve Smolik said. “The difference is, Tony works for Economic Development of Mitchell County, and if we go this route, he would work for Mitchell County and work under the Board and work with Economic Development being a county employee.”
According to Stonecypher, the issue was dropped on him at the last minute, as in discussions, Smolik indicated he believed Stonecypher was already a county employee.
Stonecypher indicated he worked for the EDC, and that the supervisors give a lump sum of money to take care of funding, which goes toward Stonecypher’s salary and the associated HR costs.
Different Iowa counties handle their EDCs in different ways.
“If you are going maintain everything that was done prior to the housing incentive program, I would say that the current setup works well,” Stonecypher said. “Because it does allow for collaboration and cooperation between all of the cities, EDCs, the utilities.”
It provides anonymity to industry coming into the county – one of the only growing rural counties in Iowa – he explained, and industry prefers to be anonymous as long as possible. They want to be able to negotiate with landowners to buy property.
Information about the Construction Incentive Program can be found at the Mitchell County EDC website, mcedciowa.com.
Stonecypher believes the program was well-conceived and a great idea, but the inability of it to be responsive caused public complaint.
“The problem came from the lack of opportunity for monitoring by the supervisors,” Stonecypher said. “One of the complaints we had on the incentive program was the perceived lack of fairness. The money was not going where people thought it should go. The public is demanding more transparency.”
He said the way the program was set up, everything possible was done to insure transparency and fairness. However, there is disconnect between the public and what the EDC does.
“This body is the natural way to do that.” Stonecypher said of transferring decisions to the supervisors, who are already the focus of political complaint. “When it comes to making changes, this body is a much more efficient way to do that.”
The supervisors would have the final say over approval of a project. Stonecypher indicated there would be no monetary difference with a change.
“I believe this is a huge change,” Todd Frein said. “I believe we really need to look at it hard. We need to figure out what we want to do for the [construction] incentives, and how we want to do it. When the [Board] agenda came out, I spent part of the evening in my office at home on phone calls.”
Saint Ansgar Mayor Keith Horgen believes the Board cannot drive economic development, that individual communities must have a voice, and that the communities – not just the Board – provide funding for the EDC.
He also wants the supervisors to hold an open meeting to gather more public input.
“I’ve heard the current EDC described as a beast that we have to handle, [that there is] infighting,” Horgen said, “I don’t know of any infighting that this EDC has produced.
“The beauty of having the EDC the way it is now, we’re out in our own communities, and we see needs, and we also see opportunities. The County Board funding it is a great thing to do, but this Board is not going to drive the EDC at any point in time. Need and possibility are what drives development.”
Smolik believes a lack of county oversight led to a majority of the public not thinking incentives were handed out fairly.
“Money was divvied out to people that, surely in the minds of the public, didn’t deserve,” he said.
The general consensus was the Board needed more time to consider the proposal, and more input from the public to make a decision.
“I’m just not ready to move on this,” Frein said.
Jason W. Selby is the community editor for the Mitchell Country Press News. He can be reached at 641-421-0578, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.