County economic development moves ahead

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August 23, 2017 - 12:00 AM

The door soon will be open to businesses and nonprofits to petition for funding from Allen County.
Commissioners were told Tuesday applications for grants or loans — for existing or new businesses, as well as nonprofits — have been completed and will be handed off to a review committee that will score appeals.
The thrust of the process will be for a committee of seven to closely examine applications and attach a score expressing urgency of need and whether what is proposed is a good fit for Allen County, said Chuck Apt.
Apt, an Iola attorney, proposed such a system when commissioners were deciding to give G&W Foods a grant of $180,000, which, along with $170,000 from Iola Industries and almost $38,000 worth of utility connections  from Iola, helped go to a $500,000 shortfall for the store’s $3.5 million to $4 million construction.
Apt said he thought a process should be in place to consider such requests.
The result was a committee of seven, led by Apt, to develop protocols, and a second committee, also of seven, to review applications and make recommendations.
Commissioners will decide whether to give support through a loan or grant, depending in large measure on the review committee’s thoughts.
“We’ve been as objective as possible,” Apt told commissioners. “Each application will be scored on its merits,” including detailed financial information that he admitted might give some potential applicants pause. However, “applications will give commissioners the best of information to decide” what approach to take.
Thursday at 5 p.m. at the courthouse, members of the two committees will meet in joint session open to the public. Then, the review committee will be appraised of what the first group decided was necessary for application for county development funding. County commissioners, who didn’t see the application form until a few days ago, will attend the session.

INITIALLY, Apt said, he didn’t detect an overly positive position from committee members on the county contributing or loaning tax dollars to private — or quasi-public, in regard to nonprofits — concerns.
But as meetings progressed, acceptance grew to the point that committee member Don Erbert — who acknowledged Tuesday he didn’t favor the out-right gift to G&W — said “I think something good can come from this.”
Erbert said he was receptive to commissioners essentially loaning $167,500 to Bill Michaud, Fort Scott, half the cost of land for construction of a hotel near the intersection of highways 169 and 54 at the east edge of Iola. The county will recoup the money through a 2 percent tax made possible through a Community Improvement District where the hotel will be raised.
By the fourth and fifth meetings, Apt said “the pieces came together pretty well,” enough that the review committee now will be given reins. Further, Allen County’s plan “isn’t much different than that of other cities,” and “we took quite a bit from what Lawrence does.”
The protocols committee was pushed along by knowing commissioners had been approached by at least three businesses — a new restaurant in Gas, the small market in Mildred and proponents of a grocery cooperative in Moran — and would like to make decisions before year’s end.
The county has reserves of about $3 million built on increased assessed valuation from Enbridge’s pipeline and pumping station, a continuing source of revenue. Also EDP Renewables is on the cusp of seeking authority to construct a wind farm in northeast Allen County. EDP will make a payment in lieu of taxes — new money to the county — for 10 years before a state-imposed property tax exemption ends.
Erbert, on hand with Apt, had a few comments.
“We went through the process (leading to design of applications) methodically,” Erbert observed, including, he thought, that nonprofits should have a business plan, the same as a commercial entity.
“Not everyone (who might apply) deserves money,” and what the committee designed “takes the politics out of it,” he added.
In a final comment, Apt said committee members are eager for all to understand everyone in the county is eligible to make application.
If a project makes sense in Iola, “or in Moran, it makes sense everywhere,” Erbert said.

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