Council may cut ties with Thrive

Iola City Council members said they favored funding the Iola Area Chamber of Commerce, and not Thrive Allen County, to serve as an economic development agent for the city. Council members gathered for their annual strategic planning session.

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Local News

March 3, 2020 - 10:59 AM

Iola City Council members Carl Slaugh, left, and Mark Peters converse at a recent strategic planning session. Others taking part were City Administrator Sid Fleming, background from left, and Mayor Jon Wells. Photo by Richard Luken

Iola will likely change how it funds its economic development efforts.

“It’s time to cut our ties with Thrive,” Iola City Councilwoman Nancy Ford said Monday, during the Council’s annual strategic planning session.

In the session — covering everything from infrastructure to the budgeting process — Ford was among the most outspoken in expressing dissatisfaction with Thrive Allen County’s performance as the city’s economic development agent.

Ford favored an increased investment with the Iola Area Chamber of Commerce, “and quit wasting our money with Thrive.”

Iola, Allen County and Iola Industries each pay Thrive $20,000 for economic development services. 

The city also pays the Chamber about $20,000 in convention and tourism funding each year. 

“From what I’ve seen, and from what we’ve seen with the new Chamber director (Jill Hartman), we can funnel more money in that direction,” Ford said. “We can see her, and she’s doing a great job. We can utilize her to maybe attract more smaller businesses. … I’ve not seen anything from Thrive in I don’t know how long.”

“I’ve seen Thrive do more for the county and other communities than for Iola,” Councilman Gene Myrick added.

Ford and other Council members noted the Chamber has added new members in recent months, a sign of the organization’s support for existing businesses.

Councilman Carl Slaugh offered his thoughts, suggesting the Chamber add an economic development component in the form of a part-time employee. “I like the idea of countywide economic development,” he said.

Mayor Jon Wells agreed, noting talk about finding industries willing to locate to Iola might be out of the Chamber’s area of expertise right now.

Iola’s contract with Thrive runs through October; a final decision would likely need to be made when the Council sets Iola’s 2021 budget over the summer.

Iola City Councilman Nickolas Kinder.

MONDAY’S four-hour planning session was geared to set the blueprint for other Council decisions in the near and distant future, including:

— Further implementing suggestions from a staffing study completed last year by Wichita State University, which covered everything from reshaping the city’s organizational structure, to addressing real or perceived inefficiencies with some services.

— Addressing infrastructure needs, particularly Kentucky Street with the construction of a new elementary school. Council members also want to take a closer look at how to maintain vacant lots, and whether any can be converted into greenspace.

— Improving how the budget is put together each year, including more face-to-face communication between the Council and department heads to help them prioritize projects or purchases. Council members said they wanted to see mill levies remain flat for 2021.

— Addressing housing needs, including exploring whether alternative housing models, such as tiny homes, could provide a quality, affordable source for families.

— Looking again at governance issues, such as Council size, length of terms and instituting a code of conduct policy to cover such things as excessive absences from Council meetings. Ford said while she opposed changing the Council’s size, shortening terms to two years might attract more office-seekers.

THE PLANNING session coincides with the city’s transition to a new city administrator.

Sid Fleming will leave his post in mid-March, and a search has begun for his new replacement.

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