The City of El Dorado and El Dorado Inc. have maintained a public-private partnership for a number of years. That relationship was better defined as the City Commission reviewed changes to the memorandum of understanding with Inc during a special meeting Wednesday afternoon.

The City of El Dorado and El Dorado Inc. have maintained a public-private partnership for a number of years. That relationship was better defined as the City Commission reviewed changes to the memorandum of understanding with Inc during a special meeting Wednesday afternoon.

“We wanted to visit with you and allow you to ask questions about the MOU to be sure we get it right,” said Dave Sundgren, Inc. president.

He said although they have had an MOU for five or six years now, he was not sure they needed one, although with the commission and Inc boards both continually changing it could be beneficial to have something in writing.

“We would like to visit about it and keep it as simple as possible,” Sundgren said. “Also, we don’t want to have to do any more work than we have to to keep you guys informed. We don’t want to give you 80 pages of something to read when you may only want a little bit about it.

“We should be something that works with the city and we ought to benefit each other. We ought to be the body that does things that you can’t do.”

Looking at funding, Sundgren said they don’t want to take any less money from the city than they currently receive.

“We really need more, but we’re not going to ask for more,” he said. “We have some really important things coming up.”

Inc. currently receives $68,200 in matching funds from the city, as well as additional funding.

That funding for 2014 has already been set in the city’s budget.

“In 2013 all outside agencies come to you during budget and ask for money,” said City Manager Herb Llewellyn. “After you approve your budget we send letters to those entities.”

For 2014, they allotted $68,200 in matching funds.

“What you all communicated to me for the MOU was you wanted to do matching funds and a total of $100,000 in cash,” Llewellyn said.

He said when they approved their budget, it included the $68,200.

“The discussion that we had was for funding moving forward,” said Commissioner Bill Young, saying he may have misinterpreted it but he thought it was for fiscal year 2015 and beyond.

“That’s why I wanted to lay it out now so you know where we are at now,” Young said.

Commissioner Chase Locke agreed he too thought they had already decided 2014.

That money is used in a variety of ways to promote economic development in the community.

Sundgren said one thing they wanted to do was form a land trust.

“That is why we need extra money in our budget or our reserve,” he said. “There are going to be some things come up that the city doesn’t want to buy or wouldn’t be politically correct or the tax payers don’t want the city to buy land just to hold it.”

That is where Inc. comes in because they can do that.

He said there are certain tracks he sees coming up for sale in the next few years and he wants to make sure they are used appropriately.

“We’ve been in discussion with the American Legion a little bit because they have a lot of property out there for sale and none of it is platted,” Sundgren continued. “I think people will be hesitant to buy that because if someone has an idea, they have to decide what they want to do and go through the platting process and it’s a lot easier if that is already done. It would be better if Inc. could help do that.

“We think that property will develop a whole lot quicker if it is platted and we want to help them do that. That is the reason we need a ‘war chest’ so we can do some of those things. There are a number of others like that.”

Sundgren also said he hoped there would not be an adversarial relationship between the city and Inc.

He thought they could work together to change some perceptions of the community that start from within.

“I think we all need to work together and work hard to get those perceptions changed within our city so the people outside our city look at those favorably,” he said. “That is part of my goal this year.”

Locke asked what some other things on the horizon were.

“I don’t think we had much knowledge as a commission of possible projects with the Legion,” he said.

Linda Jolly, Inc. executive director, said when they go back to the parameters of the MOU, they talk about different things. One is that housing is going to be important in the community.

“We had a number of housing projects come to the table,” she said.

That includes Cohen-Esrey’s proposal for the old middle school, as well as a private developer looking at putting in upstairs housing in the downtown area.

As for the Legion, she said they may not plat to the final plat, but work with the Legion on if they have potential for housing or not. She also said people have ignored the fact the city has a long-term lease on that property.

“We thought it would be a good opportunity to be a neutral third party,” she said. “We could be someone to work through the preliminary platting process with them and make sure they know what they have to sell. They need to take a long-term look at what they really want to do.”

Inc. has a request for qualifications out now for someone to work with the Legion. From that, they will talk about the parameters of work to be done. Inc. will be assisting with the cost of that.

Commissioner David Chapin liked they could do it proactively instead of reactively.

In addition to the Legion, Jolly said one project they have worked on for more than three years is going to close this week on a large tract of property that holds a lot of potential for future growth on the city’s industrial side.

They also are working with businesses to identify needs and continue to market the city. They launched the Snap Program, which highlights positive things in the city.

“One of the other things that I think has been a change in the environment is the county has drastically reduced their economic development footprint and services they are giving to communities,” Jolly said.

Because of that Jolly said they need to attend more meetings the county would have attended previously to bring back that information.

She said one question she has is if there is a list of things the city commission wants them to be doing or things to not do, as well as what reporting level they want.

Locke said he enjoyed the brief overview they get and wanted to see those on a more regular basis.

Jolly said she could give them a monthly overview as long as it was not public because of some prospects that might be on there.

“The thing I heard from the commission is they really wanted you to be proactive,” Llewellyn said.

Chapin also agreed short reports were fine and could be bimonthly, as did Young.

Young also said one of the comments he gets from business owners is they say Inc. only contacts them once a year when it is time to talk about dues or renewals.

“They have never advocated that we get rid of this program because I think this is a great system,” he said. “I think public-private development is a great partnership.”

He did want to know how to address the perception Inc. wasn’t doing anything for a business.

Locke also said some people think Inc., Main Street and the Chamber are all doing the same thing, adding he knew they were not.

As for funding, Locke said there were two thoughts – one that they need a cushion for when it is needed and another is why don’t they come ask when they need the funding.

“Part of that is I think you have to show businesses that you are doing things,” Sundgren said. “Sometimes you are doing things for certain segments of business and economic development and I don’t want to say ignoring others, but that can be the perception just because of where you are in economic development at that time.”

He also said if they had to come ask for money it probably wouldn’t be available when they need it in the amounts they need.

“To be quite frank, a public-private partnership is way quicker to react than a governing body,” he continued.

Looking at the MOU, Young said he saw a lot of changes in one portion that changed Inc. from being reactive to being proactive in how they approach things.

“Cities our size are trying to fight for businesses now and if we are not moving forward, we are moving backward,” Young said.

Another change to the MOU was to take out the Convention and Visitors Bureau duties, since that is now done by the city.

“There wasn’t an intent to do less work,” Jolly said. “It was more about what can we do.”

Young said he wasn’t trying to imply anyone was getting out of work and he wanted them to agree on an MOU that does what they all want to do, which is bring businesses to town.

Chapin asked if there was anything in the revised MOU, Inc. did not like or wanted to discuss, and Jolly said there was not anything.

“We’re looking for clear direction from you of your expectations,” she said. “To my knowledge there’s not anything in the MOU we’re not willing to do. If there are other things you want us to do, we are willing to consider those.”

Sundgren also pointed out the mayor and city manager are invited to their executive meetings where they discuss many of these things, as well as their public meetings.

Commissioner Nick Badwey suggested when Inc. has new information to share they communicate through the city manager.

“I went to the executive meeting yesterday and I was impressed with what you guys are doing,” Mayor Mike Fagg said. “The thing I’m really looking for is an annual report, a one page deal, and financials. I would hate for you to be sitting down typing this stuff. I would rather you be working on stuff.”

He said he was interested in the land trust and wanted to find out if it was something for Inc. or the city to do.

“As far as an MOU, I am one who says I would have a very general one page thing,” Fagg continued. “I am big on matching funds and we can only commit one year at a time.”

He also though did not need to report all the time, and if there was a need for additional funding, they would discuss it.

“On our side, we need to be working on some things other than this,” Fagg said. “We kind of depend on you.”

He did say he didn’t think they should be working as hard on jobs at this point because there are a lot of jobs and housing was more important to get those people who work here and live elsewhere to move here.

Fagg also pointed out Inc. has half a million dollars in the bank.

Llewellyn also said they have a half million dollars in the budget for economic development that is not earmarked.

“I think the message has always been if there is a big project, call us,” he said. “I think that has worked.”

“My point is we don’t want to spend our reserves down to zero or $200,000 because then we are limited on what we do,” Sundgren said.

Jolly said the bottom line was they appreciate the matching funds.

She also asked them to remember Inc. did not have its own dedicated staffing until 2008.

“Since I’ve been here the city has contributed $68,200 (each year),” she said.

She said it takes a majority of the $68,000, plus the city’s matching funds and private sector dollars to pay for the administrative expenses. Their overall estimated budget for 2014 is $161,000.

She also said they will start spending down some of their funds, which totals about $391,000 in available cash, which makes up the majority of their assets. Some of their upcoming expenses include the spec building with the city, a spec housing program, an energy feasibility study and a prospect to which they have a commitment.

Jolly also said Llewellyn had mentioned the commission had considered the funding not being $68,200, but it was determined the city had already committed that for 2014 and they were talking about future years.

Chapin also pointed out their workload was shrunk down when the CVB duties were removed so they were getting more streamlined.

“I think at least this year while I’m president we are going to work harder, not less hard,” Sundgren said.

Chapin said he meant they could be more focused and get more work done.

“I am excited to see where you go now so that you can focus all of your time on economic development and not split your time,” Young added.

Chapin pointed out he has seen a lot of improvements directed by Inc. and other cities have modeled their programs after El Dorado’s.

Young thanked Inc. for all of the hard work they do.

“And it takes everyone working together to get it all right,” Sundgren said.

Julie Clements can be reached at jclements@butlercountytimesgazette.com.