Some on fiscal court question progress of EDP

Published 7:22 pm Thursday, April 4, 2019

During the last Boyle County Fiscal Court meeting, a lengthy conversation developed about the county’s support of the Danville-Boyle County Economic Development Partnership. Judge-Executive Howard Hunt asked magistrates for feedback about signing the partnership commitment, a three-page document outlining the requirements of all involved partners.

Hunt told the court he would prefer magistrates take the document and study it, as well as explain it to their constituents and get the public’s feedback.

Magistrate Tom Ellis said he and Magistrate Jason Cullen met with EDP Board Chair Ben Nelson and BCIF Board Chair John Albright previously to express concerns. Ellis brought a document provided by the EDP outlining its yearly budgets, county and city funding and employment numbers over the last decade.

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Ellis is concerned about the amount of money contributed by the county versus the city, although it was explained that the “pass-through” funding the EDP gives to some of its partners was not included in the amounts; it was also noted on the document. He is concerned with employment numbers going from 14,149 in 2009 to 14,079 in 2018, and said the EDP is falling short of its main goal of creating jobs.

Ellis also feels the partnership agreement gives too much power to the BCIF, and repeatedly brought up the controversial Diageo LLC distillery decision. BCIF withdrew a 100-acre site it was considering selling to the distillery because of the number of jobs it would create versus the acreage. The company bought land in Marion County instead.

Magistrate John Caywood said keep in mind BCIF is a totally private organization, and no one has any say-so over what it does. “And there’s not a thing you can do about it …” he said, but added he felt Hunt should have a seat on the foundation’s board and “have a vote” to represent the county.

After Diageo was repeatedly brought up by Ellis, Caywood said, “We could talk about that decision to withdraw the property all day long.”

Ellis said as far as the partnership agreement goes, his concerns are over the “financial language and the commitments we would have if we signed the document as drafted. I’d like to get inside it and see what they need versus what we can be comfortable with.”

“Well, Tom — you have been to a lot of EDP meetings, did you bring any of this up? … This document has been out for a long time,” Caywood said.

Cullen said the court received it back in January.

“It’s asking for a partnership, and it’s hard to feel like a partner when you’ve got one individual or one entity that’s going rogue,” Cullen said. He said he made a point to Nelson and Albright when he met with them.

“I said if a conglomerate like Diageo is coming and asking for 100 acres, they’re not going to put three rickhouses on it and then call it a day — they’re looking for expansion,” Cullen said. “And I don’t want to put words or thoughts in anyone’s head, but it was like a lightbulb kinda went off there that wasn’t thought of …”

Cullen said it’s hard to go into a partnership “knowing that your opinion is not valued, because someone else is going to make the decisions that affects this whole county. So I have a problem with this (agreement) outside of the financial implications that Tom’s talking about.”

“Right or wrong can be discussed for a long time, but they own the land … They withdrew, we lost it, and Lebanon is tickled to death,” Caywood said. “I will tell you this, Alan Turbyfill … said that probably the public sector will have to help them with the next time they need to buy land.”

Hunt said, “Well, they’ve already made the pitch.”

Cullen agreed with an earlier assertion by Caywood — that  BCIF is using an outdated playbook. “They have an idea of about how many employees per acre, and that’s what they’re going off of. They said this is what we’ve always done, but … the economy has changed, jobs have changed, you kind of have to reevaluate that …”

Cullen said he has asked several times, but “never got a real answer — as they’ve sold land, and again they’re private, but have you reinvested that money into purchasing new land, or basically are you just selling land and bringing the money back in?”

He said he knows the foundation has made reinvestments towards property they already own, “but they’ve not made any new purchases of land, which kind of worries me. It brings up the point where they are going to come to us looking for us to buy more land …”

Caywood said back years ago, “you could sell industrial land for $35,000-$40,000 and acre. BCIF did the streets, they ran the lines, they did all of the infrastructure … that the company needed in order to come.” Later, he said the competition started giving land away, which made it extremely tough to get all of the money needed out of the property and buy new land.

“They’re just now coming to the point of where the number of acres is short and they need to start thinking about it,” Caywood said. However, he said the competition has changed, and perhaps the employees versus acreage ratio needs to be rethought.

“What I really want to know … I want you to talk to your constituents and what their idea is about the court contributing money for land speculation in the future,” Hunt said.

The court decided it would invite a representative from the Boyle County Industrial Foundation to appear at next Tuesday’s meeting to answer questions.

Cullen said everyone on the court should “really dive into” the EDP budget request — it requests $150,000 from each the city and county — because he considers some of it questionable. “At some point, you have to say I’m not going to keep throwing money in something unless I see some results.”

“The question you have to ask is what are the results. Where is the line you draw and how are you going to measure it, what’s your goals,” Caywood said. “EDP’s not done it. Obviously, the foundation deals in land, they don’t do it. It’s hard to measure if there’s no goal line.”

Cullen said, “The primary measurement is not a job loss over 10 years.”

“Then we need to think about what the alternate plan is,” Caywood said. “Plan A isn’t working, so what’s Plan B?”