GREENVILLE — Backers of a proposed economic development millage spoke of the good that would come of enacting Michigan’s Public Act 88 to levy 0.1 of a mill countywide to fund a partnership between the Montcalm Alliance and The Right Place.
Officials with the city of Greenville, Michigan Works, Montcalm Community College and Montcalm County were in attendance at Thursday’s Coalition of Greater Greenville meeting. Everyone at the Greenville meeting was seemingly on board with the issue, which has drawn both opposition and support from people throughout the county.
“We’re looking at how we can align regionally, how we can be more robust as a county and then how do we pay for that,” said Candy Kerschen, who is executive director of the Greenville Chamber of Commerce.
The proposed partnership would be a contract between the Alliance and The Right Place, a West Michigan business development and economic development agency, and would fund an economic development manager to promote and market Montcalm County to businesses.
Kerschen cited instances in other counties in which strong economic development management has greatly benefited those communities. She said Ionia County has seen 580 jobs retained, 90 new jobs created and $19 million in new wages.
The reason for the joining The Right Place, according to Alliance members, is because while the Alliance has been successful in its endeavors, it has become nearly impossible to fund. Currently funded primarily through membership dues, the Alliance has seen its membership revenue decline from more than $81,000 in 2011-2012 to under $50,000 in 2012-2013.
“This is an at-will donation. This is not mandatory,” said Montcalm Community College Vice President for Academic Affairs Rob Spohr of membership fees. “For businesses and non profits alike, they have taken a beating. So what’s the first thing you drop? The thing that is not mandatory.”
While considering other funding sources, such as fundraising, officials said Thursday that would be counterproductive, as a new economic development manager would spend a large amount of time just trying to secure the next year’s budget. If enacted, Public Act 88 — which requires approval from the Montcalm County Board of Commissioners, rather than a countywide ballot vote — would bring in approximately $163,000 per year, which would fund the new manager position as well as the Alliance director.
The issue, said Greenville City Manager George Bosanic, is stable funding.
“A tenth of a mill will give a lot of what we need to have happen in this county to get us in the game,” Bosanic said. “You need a stable funding source and PA 88 is that source.”
The Montcalm County Board of Commissioners has the legal ability to levy up to 0.5 of a mill, but is only being asked to approve 0.1 of a mill at this time.
The cost to the average resident would likely be minimal. A home with a taxable value of $50,000 would pay $2.50 annually while a home with a taxable value of $200,000 would still pay $10 per year.
Those paying the most as a result of the tax levy would be industrial taxpayers, officials said. Federal-Mogul, which is the county’s largest industrial tax payer, would have an annual tax increase of approximately $700.
Federal-Mogul has already expressed its support for the millage proposal, even submitting a letter of support to the Alliance, which Kerschen read to the Montcalm County Board of Commissioners on Dec. 16.
For those present at Thursday’s meeting, the benefit of the millage far outweighed the cost.
“If this program is successful in growing our tax base by $9 million, it paid for itself,” Bosanic said. “That’s what gets lost in this discussion. It has yet to be said, is that fact, and we’re pretty confident that’s going to happen.”
However, officials acknowledged the public concern isn’t necessarily the economic development partnership, but instead where the financial backing will come from.
“My overall impression is that I don’t think anyone is against economic development or against leaning on the professionals and experts in this field,” Kerschen said. “ I think the general public is more concerned with how this will be funded.”
The Montcalm County Board of Commissioners will likely hear plenty more on the topic come Jan. 26, when a public hearing on the issue will be held during the regular board meeting in Stanton.