County wants to open dialogue with cities over funding economic development

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Members of the Indian River County Economic Development Council discussed the possibility of asking the five municipalities to kick in funds to help pay for economic development.

The idea went over like a lead balloon for member Andrea Coy, a Sebastian City Councilwoman. EDC member Bill Penney broached the subject at a recent meeting, saying that he believes a dialogue should be started with the cities and towns.

“We’re sending Helene (Caseltine) into a battle with a popgun,” he said, drawing an analogy of how little money Indian River County has for economic development compared to surrounding counties. “Our funding is so minuscule.”

Caseltine is the Indian River County Chamber of Commerce’s director of economic development.

“I’ve got to be quite frank,” Coy said in response to Penney’s proposal. She went on to say numerous times that she does not know that money the City of Sebastian were to put in would be returned to the city.

Instead, she would rather Sebastian – and Fellsmere – give financial assistance to the Sebastian River Area Chamber of Commerce, which is focused on north county.

Fellsmere’s representative at the EDC meeting, Mayor Susan Adams, was not in attendance.

Coy said that she would be leery of allocating city tax dollars to the Indian River County Chamber without having a specific project to which the funds would go.

“It’s kind of our history,” the councilwoman said, explaining that the city kicks in funds and then, in her opinion, gets left out.

Other members of the committee came to the Chamber’s defense, pointing out that while several businesses have located to Vero Beach or the unincorporated parts of the county, their employees live in the cities – including Sebastian.

Beth Mitchell, executive director of the Sebastian River Area Chamber of Commerce, said that both Chambers have worked well together over the years and that she is kept informed of potential businesses relocating or opening in the county.

She questioned why the county might be asking the municipalities for funds instead of the county just increasing its own funding.

Municipalities pay county taxes and are a part of the greater county.

“If we all divide up and have little bitty fiefdoms, we’re never going to be big,” Penney said, adding that it takes money to go to trade shows and bring people into the county to show them why locating their business in Indian River County would be good.

Penney later said that he only wanted to get the discussion going and added that they might not be able to reach a resolution in the next year or two.

On another level, that discussion has started to take place amongst the five mayors during regular Mayors Meetings. Then-Mayor Richard Gillmor, of Sebastian, had said during those meetings that it might be time for the cities to pony up some funds and get the Board of County Commissioners to match so as to help boost economic development.

The discussion never reached the Sebastian City Council level. Gillmor, who was re-elected earlier this month, is no longer mayor, having been replaced by Jim Hill.

Other mayors have debated “putting skin in the game” as Gillmor has called it, noting – like Coy – that the funds might not be tied to a specific endeavor.

As of yet, no official request has been made to the cities and towns by the county and no dollar amount has been set. When either of those items might be presented to the councils is not yet known.

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