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Fuel support with details

Published 6/19/2010 in Commentary : Columns

The Finney County Economic Development Corp. has tried to fuel growth, but without enough gas in its tank.

As part of an ongoing quest to establish more permanent funding, the FCEDC has asked Garden City and Finney County for a significant jump-start in financial support, from a combined $214,000 this year to $845,000 for 2011.

But commissioners understandably appear reluctant due to two recent setbacks at the polls, when local voters rejected the FCEDC's request for a quarter-cent sales tax to generate more than $1 million in annual funding.

The concern is a familiar one. Supporters of Garden City USD 457's attempt to resolve a problem of overcrowding at Garden City High School heard the same after voters twice rejected a second high school. With high school crowding not going away, the school board pushed on with another plan for a replacement high school, which voters approved.

Of course, economic development is different.

Voters knew they were building a new school. Results of economic development spending can be elusive.

Yet the FCEDC could build support for additional funding by telling us more.

For example, we've heard that the funds would help local businesses expand and add jobs. The FCEDC should cite specific examples of businesses that are prime prospects to do so.

Surely one or two would step up to outline plans that give taxpayers a better idea of how their dollars would contribute to local growth.

It's also necessary to provide as many details as possible on lost prospects. Knowing, for example, the specific shortcomings that led businesses to consider other locations would help taxpayers understand what happened, and how more funding would help in the future. How much would it have cost to win over those prospects?

And how much taxpayer relief would new businesses bring?

No one wants higher taxes. It's important to drive home the ability of such an investment to build the local tax base and ease the burden on taxpayers.

Proper oversight of increased economic development spending also is a must to combat a lack of trust often cited in the two failed votes. The FCEDC and local governments, which would provide oversight, should do more to spell out how that would work.

By filling in those blanks, the FCEDC would build support and give local government more of a case to endorse additional funding needed to maintain and grow the economy.

Governments have to make tough decisions to pursue strategies that best serve their communities. Even state lawmakers faced with an unprecedented budget crunch recently approved a multibillion-dollar transportation plan to, among other things, boost economic development.

Locally, most everyone agrees that a voter-approved sales tax would be the best way to fund economic development, in part because much of the tax would be paid by visitors to the community.

For now, Garden City and Finney County should provide enough additional funding to help the FCEDC gain momentum, show citizens how effective the investment can be, and then approach them with another pitch for a sales tax to fund growth strategies.

Local economic development forces already have spent too much time fretting over funding — time that would be better spent helping existing businesses and dealing with prospects.

They just need some gas in the tank to move forward. Giving citizens a clearer picture of where they're headed would help.

E-mail Editor-publisher Dena Sattler at denas@gctelegram.com.

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