BY ANDY TAYLOR
INDEPENDENCE — A delegation of business leaders asked Montgomery County commissioners about development of a referendum question whereby county voters would be asked to dedicate a sales tax or a property tax — the exact details and amount of the proposed tax have yet to be decided — for economic development purposes.
Three officers from the Montgomery County Action Council told commissioners that a dedicated and permanent funding source would allow Montgomery County to compete with other counties that attempt to lure industries and businesses to their cities. Currently, Montgomery County does not have a dedicated funding source for business and industry recruitment incentives. Montgomery County and the cities of Independence, Coffeyville, Caney and Cherryvale provide a portion of their monies each year to fund the Montgomery County Action Council, which is the county’s lead agency on economic development. The money provided by the county and city governments is used to fund the salaries of the MCAC director and assistant director/secretary. Presenting their argument to the commission were Ron McVey of Decker Construction, MCAC president; Chuck Goad of Community National Bank & Trust in Independence; and John Schmid of Perl Auto Center in Coffeyville.
McVey said last week’s departure of MCAC director Brad Eilts to the City of McPherson made MCAC officials even more aware of the need for a dedicated funding source and a recruiting tool. Eilts indicated to MCAC officials that the City of McPherson has dedicated tax sources that makes industrial and business recruitment more realistic and attainable.
Schmid compared the collection of a dedicated tax for economic development as a kind of a “warchest.” He noted Montgomery County was losing stature compared to peer counties for failing to have an economic development fund established for industry and business recruitment purposes. He noted Crawford County has a sales tax dedicated to economic development, and Labette County was channeling funds into the new Great Plains Industrial Park at the site of the former Kansas Army Ammunition Plant southeast of Parsons. That industrial park is home to 14,000 available acres of prospective industry and business development sites, he said.
The three officials said their meeting on Monday was merely to open a dialogue with commissioners about prospects for a countywide election or referendum about a dedicated tax. No decisions were made at Monday’s meeting, and no specific details about a proposed tax were presented because the issue was early in the development stages.
However, one county commissioner took issue with the role that Montgomery County Action Council was taking in luring industries and businesses to Montgomery County. Commissioner Leon Rau compared MCAC to a “special interest group,” even going as far as saying the mixture of taxpayer dollars with private industries lended itself to a form of fascism or socialism.
He said he felt Montgomery County should not subsdize the labor efforts of big industries and corporations because those corporate profits go out of the area.
Rau said he felt more efforts should go toward helping existing, smaller businesses.
That brought a quick rebuttal from Schmid, who said 90 percent of MCAC’s attention and time is spent on existing, smaller companies, not the larger ones like Cessna Aircraft, John Deere, Southwire or Amazon.com.
Schmid also refuted Rau’s claim that Montgomery County doesn’t gain economically if any corporation’s profits are sent out of state. He said the distribution of any county’s wealth comes from the distribution of payroll checks at local companies and businesses. Because corporation profits are disseminated through dividends to shareholders, it’s unfair to characterize previous economic development initiatives as not benefitting Montgomery County, he said.
McVey and the commissioners said they would work together over the course of the next year to analyze and plan a referendum question concerning economic development. At the earliest, voters would decide on either a sales tax or dedicated property tax in the primary election in August 2014 or the general election in November 2014.
More details are printed in the Oct. 18 edition of the Montgomery County Chronicle.