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Commissioners divided on EDC's request for more funds

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Tighe, Griffin question boost amid county’s own financial challenges

By Ramsey Scott

With budget discussions under way for next year, Jeffco’s county commissioners are hearing from all quarters about the need for more funding. 

One group seeking more taxpayer dollars, the Jefferson County Economic Development Corp., made its pitch again last week. Yet it was the commissioners who ended up doing most of the talking.

Commissioner Don Rosier asked members of the EDC to attend last week’s commissioners meeting to continue discussions about funding for the economic-development group’s new Forward Jeffco initiative. 

The five-year, $3.9 million plan has been billed as a proactive approach by the EDC to draw more businesses into the county by focusing on specific business sectors. 

Rosier, who sits on the EDC board, said the Forward Jeffco initiative would be a wise investment for the county. While funds are tight and the county has made painful cuts in every department, Rosier said, the initiative would, in the long run, help the county’s economy get back on its feet.

The EDC has said the initiative will bring 7,500 jobs into Jeffco over a five-year period. The plan was developed after a study by Angelou Economics recommended a more cohesive effort to catch the next wave of business development, said Kevin McCasky, CEO of the Jeffco EDC and a former county commissioner. 

The EDC contracted with National Community Development Services last year to find the best way to sell the county to businesses nationwide. The Georgia-based company works with local governments across the country to develop economic strategies and help raise funds.  

Yet the investment the EDC is seeking — $100,000 a year for the next five years — has given Commissioners Casey Tighe and Faye Griffin pause. 

While both agreed they support the economic initiative, neither felt comfortable appropriating an additional $100,000 annually on top of the $300,000 Jeffco provided to the EDC this year.

“I know what you’re (Rosier is) saying; I know what they’re saying. But I have a real problem with adding additional money to this particular group,” Griffin said. “When we have not been able to do anything for our employees, I’d like to say, ‘Sure, it’s going to help and bring in more money,’ but I have a problem with adding more money right now.”

Tighe agreed. While he backs the initiative, Tighe said Jeffco needs to get a clearer picture of its budget priorities for the next few years before granting more money to the EDC. 

“I respect what’s being said, but I take a holistic, global view,” Rosier said. “We have to look at what can get us out of the hole we are in. What will get us out of the hole is with increased revenues. …

“The best investment we can give those people right now is a job. But yet we’re not willing to commit to helping them get a job. We’re committing to help them stay committed to government handouts.”

While Griffin agreed with Rosier that investment is needed, she reiterated her desire for the EDC to seek additional funding from private groups and to stop relying on the county to fund a majority of its operations. 

“We’re the highest dollar amount contributor,” Griffin said. “I’d like to say, ‘Sure, let’s do it,’ but we do have other obligations right now. I need to see some more numbers. … I one-hundred-percent believe in your campaign. But we have to look at what we’ve got right here, and it’s not very good.”

Tighe said other services funded by the county — such as funding that helps seniors stay in their own homes — can produce a multiplying effect with county dollars in the local economy. 

“There are a lot of different things we can do to help the economy and help the people of the county,” Tighe said. “There are needs in the senior community.”

Rosier responded by referring to Tighe’s support for increasing the county mill levy to pre-recession levels. That touched off a heated discussion between the two about whether a county rebate on property taxes for seniors would make a difference and whether the county funds property-tax breaks for businesses. 

McCasky said he understood the pressures the commissioners are under with the budget. 

“We can do what we’ve always done and get what we’ve always gotten,” McCasky said. “This is an opportunity to not only take a leadership role and stewardship of tax dollars, you can grow your economic base. This is an opportunity. Will it work? I think it will. I’ve always advocated that it will.”

McCasky said the EDC has also suffered funding cuts from the county.

“We’ve taken literally a $100,000 cut from the commissioners in investments in the last two years. And it’s put us in a delicate position as well,” McCasky said. “If you were to restore that level of funding, that would specifically go to two full-time employees who are focused on the future.”

 

Contact Ramsey Scott at ramsey@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext 22, and follow him on Twitter @RamseyColumbine.