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City increases funding for DCED, questions inequities

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The City of Delta increased its investment in Delta County Economic Development from $25,000 to $35,000 for 2017, despite reservations some council members have about funding disparities.

Bill Raley and Gerald Roberts believe the City of Delta is paying more than its fair share. About a quarter of DCED's operating expenses are covered by the city, they noted during a Dec. 6 work session.

Trish Thibodo, DCED's executive director, said all DCED's partners have been asked to increase their investment. Delta County upped its contribution from $15,000 in 2016 to $20,000 in 2017.

"That bothers me," Raley said, comparing the two amounts. Delta County has a population of 29,000; the city's population is just under 9,000.

"We stand to benefit more than anybody else in the county," observed Mayor Ed Sisson.

"A lot of companies we work with are looking at Delta," Thibodo agreed.

"DCED has taken leadership on many projects that will positively impact Delta and we look forward to having the continued capacity to do so," she said in a memo sent to council members in advance of the work session.

Roberts objected to the lack of information about projects in the works. Thibodo said confidentiality is a key element of working with businesses looking to expand or relocate.

On the other hand, she said the city and the public are well aware of DCED's economic diversification efforts, taking place on many fronts from broadband implementation to business branding to creating innovation centers to support business development and growth. DCED is working with the city on the riverfront development and on the hotel/conference center envisioned for that area.

"I don't question whether you're doing a good job," Raley said. "I just want to know why Delta is paying such a big share."

In response to a question about how the additional funding will be used, Thibodo said with more money, DCED staff and board members can do more networking locally, regionally and at the state level to keep the projects on the table moving forward. In addition, DCED will soon have to begin paying rent on the bank-owned property it occupies at the corner of 4th and Palmer.

Thibodo said DCED relies on public entities like the city, hospital, school district and county for the lion's share of its operating expenses. In Delta County, there simply aren't enough large privately-owned businesses to shoulder the cost of economic development, although DCED is also working to increase business investments.

A public-private partnership like DCED can accomplish a lot more than a single entity, administrative intern Matt Hirschinger pointed out. "I don't know where else we could spend that money that would go to getting more jobs," he said.

Councilmember Chris Ryan agreed. The city has no "dedicated economic driver" on staff, and if there was such an individual, salary and benefits would cost far more than the city's investment in DCED.

The city's 2017 budget, which has already been approved, allocated $25,000 for DCED membership and set aside another $25,000 for a specific project to be approved by council. City manager David Torgler said with council approval, the $50,000 would simply be reallocated, with $35,000 going to membership and $15,000 available for a specific project. Both line items are funded by city utilities, which will theoretically benefit as businesses grow and more families move into the community.

"So we're still robbing the utilities," Roberts said.

"If we have to raise those rates, then I will really be upset," Raley said.

Raley ultimately sided with Ron Austin, Ed Sisson and Chris Ryan in voting to increase the city's investment in DCED. Gerald Roberts cast a "nay" vote. He said he could not reconcile a sales tax increase of 3 percent with a funding increase of 40 percent for DCED.

DCED has already outlined additional membership increases in 2018 and 2019, prompting Torgler to suggest those may not be possible unless the funding percentages start to shift from the city.

The city also released funds to the Delta Area Chamber of Commerce for the "Kickoff to Christmas" celebration. Executive director Darnell Place-Wise asked for $3,000 to cover advertising, drawings, prizes and awards for the window decorating contest.

The city council also approved $17,318 for All Points Transit in the 2017 budget. The amount did not change from 2016.

From January to September 2016, All Points Transit delivered 7,964 Dial-a-Ride trips in Delta County, up 10 percent year to date over 2015.

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