It’s time to make some changes for the sake of improved economic development in Madison County.
That was the message from Rodney Chandler, spokesman for the county’s economic development study committee, which worked for months evaluating county government structures and the best way to enhance economic development in Madison County.
Chandler told the board of commissioners that now is the ideal time to begin restructuring the development authority and water and sewer service. He noted that the county commissioners are working well together and showing a willingness to tackle hard problems and look long term. He cited events last year with the industrial authority that involved “unnecessary conflicts with existing industries regarding infrastructure planning and placement,” which were followed by personnel changes at the IDA, and he referenced the completion of the lengthy comprehensive plan, which was officially approved by commissioners Monday.
He said the status quo regarding economic development is not OK with most of the committee.
“Nine out of the 11 of us did not feel like economic development was currently effective,” he said. “There had been significant problems in communication between entities, some personality things. Too much of a focus had been on water and not on economic development.”
Chandler cited several reasons for government restructuring. Most of them involved beginning a path for long term success both in the water and development sides. The committee’s suggestions span three main components that could take up to five years to complete.
First, the study committee recommends separating the water and sewer departments from the development portion of the IDBA. In turn, the IDBA would eventually function solely to encourage economic development. The result of the new structure may necessitate new staffing, evaluation of duties, and definition of functions. Perhaps most importantly, a new structure would require the board to develop a further plan for the debt currently held by the IDBA. According to Chandler, the Committee sees the first step in separating the development and water sewer arms of the IDBA can begin immediately.
“Over the many years, economic development was effectively ignored as water was pursued,” said Chandler. “The study committee believes that the function of constructing and operating water and sewer services should be a wholly separate function from economic development, so that economic development can receive its own necessary focus.”
A new entity structure will allow for regionalized planning and agreements for water and development, which are not allowable under the current IDBA charter.
Next, the group suggests an “Economic Development Strategic Plan” for the county. This plan would complement the recently completed comprehensive plan. The new economic plan would address specific areas of economic growth like target industries, location for growth, expanding infrastructure, and incentive packages to attract target business and industry. The long-and short-term plan would include citizen input. Chandler says the plan would mirror the goals of the recently approved comprehensive plan to give the county a three-to-20 year outlook to intentionally plan economic development. Commissioners could begin that process in 2023.
A third suggestion is the creation of a countywide water and sewer authority separate from the IDBA. Tasks related to this suggestion may include commissioning a water-engineer study to help develop the system, research and compare other water systems, and prepare processes for the system to function well.
The one mil tax levied on property for development will need to be addressed in the creation of a new authority. While an engineering study could take place as soon as this year, the process to complete the separation may take as many as two years to complete.
Finally, the committee proposes changing the form of county government to one with a county manager. The county currently operates under a full-time chairman of the board of commissioners, who is elected in a four-year term. However, a county manager form of government separates the legislative responsibilities of the county to the county commission with the day-to-day administrative operations of a county manager. A county manager is generally a full-time position with responsibilities held across election cycles.
The committee believes the form change is the most important for the county, long-term.
“One of the key factors we identified was the need and great difficulty in creating and sustaining a culture of continuity and collaboration,” said Chandler.
The committee says a county manager may assist in that continuity for future growth and communication between entities and departments within the county.
Before the change could occur, the county would need to hold public hearings, work with state legislators, and pass a referendum on the local ballot. A target date for this recommendation is 2028.
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