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Mayor's EDC plan draws fire

July 25, 2012

Despite a strong public outcry to let the Big Spring Spring Economic Development Corporation remain a Type A agency from board members — present and former — and local residents, the city council voted unanimously Tuesday night to move forward with efforts to have the issue taken to the voters in November during a special election.

The council — with District 1 Councilman Marcus Fernandez and District 5 Councilman Craig Olson absent due to health issues — approved first reading of an ordinance calling for a special election to be held during the Nov. 6 general election for Big Spring voters to consider abolishing the current one-half cent sales tax currently devoted to Type A economic development and replace the tax at the same amount with a Type B Tax under Chapter 505 of the Texas Local Government Code.

At the heart of the argument Tuesday night was Mayor Tommy Duncan and Big Spring EDC Board of Directors President Justin Myers, who sparred at length regarding Duncan's push to move the EDC from the Type A agency to a Type B corporation.

This week isn't the first time Duncan and Myers have locked horns, however, as the EDC and council found themselves at odds earlier this year when the city council tried to force the EDC to give up nearly half its annual budget for the next 20 years to finance a proposed multi-million overhaul of the municipality's water and wastewater facilities.

The overhaul — which was ultimately approved by the voters in the form of a Type B (or 4B) funded project — was agreed upon by both the city and EDC to the tune of 40 percent of the corporation's annual budget, but not before the city included a provision guaranteeing it would not seek further 4B funding from the EDC while the 20 year note was in effect, offering protection to the remaining 60 percent of the agency's budget.

“One of the things we were adamant about was to leave the other 60 percent to do 4A projects. It wasn't ideal as far as we were concerned, but we thought we could live with that,” Myers told Duncan during the meeting. “We did that in good faith and we thought we had a deal and it would be in place for the 20-year term. Going from a 4A to a 4B, it's hard for me to not at least see that as breaking the spirit of that agreement.

“I had several people tell me then, once we started down this road they (the city council) would get it all, and that's the feel this has for us. And that's where we feel like we are. We asked to have the 60 percent for 4A, and now you want to make us a 4B. Whether it's the intent or not, from the board's perspective that absolutely broke the spirit of that agreement. Whether this goes to a vote or not, I think from here on out we're going to have a watered down 4A (economic development). I think that's just a travesty for our future.”

Duncan said he understood Myers' and the other EDC board members feelings the city was going back on their deal, but refused to see it their way, saying they were still honoring the “spirit” of the deal they made.

“I gave the EDC plenty of heads up before we started negotiating whether we would let the community vote on the water project,” Duncan said. “I did that initially thinking the EDC would be excited that this would open doors, that better water and being able to divert money for better streets would be an attractive thing for business and industry, but you disagreed and I understand that. My problem with your position was you didn't want to community to vote and you were ready to argue that point. In order to try to make it not such a hot topic in the community and to prevent what we had anyway, I sat down and negotiated with you, in good faith, what you said was a package you said you could live with.”

Myers said his main concern for the move from Type A to Type B is what it will do to the city's ability to create jobs and maintain a level of economic development in a time when it has become more and more critical.

“My real concern with making this a 4B corporation, the board's concern with it and what the community should be concerned with is whether we'll have watered down or no economic development for 4A projects,” Myers said. “Even if it's not this board, then future boards. People with common sense know, that's just the way it is. If the government can get its hands on it, I think it will be spent on projects. The 4A side will be quickly watered down and that would be my main concern with going to a 4B corporation.”

Dr. Keith Ledford, who serves as the EDC board's vice president, also didn't take kindly to what he called a “backdoor” attempt to break the agreement between the city and the EDC, also spoke emotionally during the meeting.

“As far as the agreement is concerned, I definitely feel this is a backdoor way to break the agreement,” Ledford said. “I'm highly offended as a member of the EDC and as a citizen of Big Spring that there has been this attempt to backdoor and not agree, to not stand up for an agreement that you, the city council made with the EDC.”

“Mr. Ledford, could the EDC have not have made any of those agreements under a 4B EDC?” Duncan asked.

“I don't know. If you take the money away, there's no money to do it with,” a very animated Ledford said. “And that's exactly what you're doing.”

Also part of Tuesday night's meeting, the agenda called for discussion and consideration of removing and replacing board members currently seated on the Big Spring EDC. However, Duncan said the item was placed on the agenda prematurely and he would not be asking that any of the existing board members be removed. He did, however, give the remaining council members the chance to make any suggestions regarding dismissals, to which there were none.

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