Community leaders in Lee’s Summit are edging closer to reaching an agreement on city money going to fund operations of the Lee’s Summit Economic Development Council.
The Lee’s Summit City Council has stalled that group’s annual allotment of about $250,000 since July while trying to decide what to do about performance standards that could be included in a service agreement with the LSEDC.
During a July 31 special session, the council met with the LSEDC’s executive committee to discuss the issues. The city uses part of its hotel tax to finance nearly half of the LSEDC’s annual budget, which exceeds $500,000. The rest comes from business donations.
Over more than two hours, discussion was respectful but frank. Members of both groups agreed it is important to go forward with more trust and better communication.
There was general talk about goals, and there was agreement that both groups want the same result: providing quality jobs in Lee’s Summit.
Each side offered examples of progress made in the last year, such as the city setting up a Development Center to make permitting and building easier for businesses, or the LSEDC hiring a new director whose specialty is recruiting businesses.
They discussed perceptions that the LSEDC hadn’t been aggressive enough in recruiting and marketing or that the council was too bullying toward developers.
Still, the group didn’t get into the details of any specific measures for the service agreement.
Bill Brown, a member of the LSEDC committee, said the two sides were continuing to say the same things and were “... spinning our wheels to a large degree.”
“Persistent nicking each other over economic development isn’t doing a good job of selling our community,” Brown said.
He suggested that the council and LSEDC members step back and let Assistant City Manager Daren Fristoe and Rick McDowell, the LSEDC’s new president and director, hammer out details for performance standards and a framework for cooperation.
Christine Bushyhead, the LSEDC committee’s secretary, asked whether the council intends to make the annual allocation to the LSEDC.
Councilman Derek Holland said he wants LSEDC members to understand his perspective that there does need to be accountability.
“You call it ‘blame’ when we ask about what we’re getting for our money,” Holland said. “We’ve got to ask those questions.”
Holland said he did not know of any council member who wanted to take away the LSEDC’s funding.
Brad Cox, chairman of the LSEDC, said the city needs to hold itself accountable as well. For example, he said, the organization has asked the city for years to develop an incentive policy that can be presented to businesses seeking a new site.
He said the LSEDC isn’t opposed to standards but wants them to be realistic.
Lee’s Summit’s new climate for economic development has to include more redevelopment, he said, and developers are asking for incentives. That poses a different set of challenges than the city’s high-growth decade in the 1990s.
“All we saw was fresh dirt and buildings going up,” Cox said. “There’s only a certain amount of that that’s going to happen again.”
Councilwoman Trish Carlyle agreed the city needs to make adopting an incentive policy a high priority. Council members Bob Johnson and Rob Binney agreed, but cautioned that might take some time because of the diverse opinions among council members.
City Manager Steve Arbo said the two organizations’ staff members would work on proposals, with the aim of having a public service agreement ready for discussion and a vote Aug. 21.