AUDIO: City Council Discusses Financial Pledge to Economic Development Foundation


Published on March 19 2013 10:02 pm
Last Updated on July 14 2013 12:07 pm
Written by Greg Sapp


A request to contribute toward the Effingham County Economic Development Foundation led to a lengthy debate among Effingham City Council members about whether to offer financial support to the Foundation.

The Foundation is a reincarnation of the former Effingham Civic Foundation, which provided leadership and funds for a number of community and county initiatives for almost 70 years.  Two of the officers of the Foundation, President Dan Woods and Treasurer Claude Hudson made the case for the Foundation and asked the Council to consider a $50,000 contribution to the organization, although they asked for $25,000 the first year and then an increased level of participation in subsequent years.

Woods and Hudson talked about a public-private partnership in economic development efforts.  Woods indicated after the meeting that the City has done well, but can't keep up due to the rapid pace of economic change, so the public-private partnership would undergird the City's efforts.

Our Greg Sapp asked Woods after the presentation why he thinks the Foundation's proposal will work...

Mayor Merv Gillenwater was not ready to commit to the proposal, saying he wants more answers including whether the City can commit public funds to such an effort.  He also said that many communities that have undertaken public-private partnerships don't have a City economic development office.

Here's what Gillenwater had to share...

Commissioner Matt Hirtzel said a commitment to the Foundation is an opportunity for the City to be a leader, saying the decision to contribute "is a no-brainer".  We asked Hirtzel why he feels support for the Foundation is the right choice...

Commissioners Alan Harris and Brian Milleville also voiced support for the effort, while Commissioner Don Althoff liked the idea of a partnership, but had questions about the financial commitment.  The 22 private members of the Foundation have already put their money where their mouths are, having committed $100,000 to date. 

It was also noted that the Foundation contributed toward a recent effort to keep a local industry that had looked to leave.  Gillenwater, though, indicated that there might not need to be a different method to retain and attract business, judging by how well the recent effort went.

The City would be guaranteed two seats on the Foundation Board if the Council agrees to the financial commitment.  Some believe that if Effingham antes up, it'll motivate other communities to get on board.

No votes on the issue were taken last night.

Also Tuesday, Council members approved engineering agreements for street construction projects on First Street and Illini Drive and for a storm sewer project on Fifth Street; agreed to rezone lots at 404 East Washington from general commercial to multiple family dwelling district to allow development of two apartment buildings on the 400 block; and issued a liquor license to an entity to be known as Trucker's Pub at 1707 West Avenue of Mid-America.

The Council discussed a health insurance renewal through Health Alliance with Weis Insurance Agency of Effingham overseeing the process.  Two bad years of loss experience with City employees led the Council to leave their specific stop loss limit at $70,000 with the expectation that claims could reach $2 million this year.

The Council also agreed to contribute up to $15,000 this year toward the cost of fireworks for the 4th of July.  Firefighters Local #3084 will oversee this year's fireworks event.

Milleville suggested the City begin an annual Spring Cleaning effort, while Hirtzel reported that a couple is being written into the script of this season's "Army Wives" program on Lifetime TV will be from Effingham, Illinois.  That led to some discussion about tapping into the notoriety that will follow to boost Effingham's presence.

Council members will be right back at City Hall Wednesday at 5:30pm for a budget workshop.  The City's new fiscal year begins May 1.