Warrenton aldermen Tuesday night voted unanimously to join the Greater Warren County Economic Development Council (GWCEDC). The decision came after months of deliberation which included questions concerning the organization’s structure, the cost to join and financial accountability.
As part of the approval, the city will be reallocating $10,000 from the economic development budget to pay the annual membership fee. The city’s cost is based on assessed valuations.
The vote came after the city reiterated it needed an audit, which is a policy requirement anytime the city contributes $10,000 or more to any organization.
The GWCEDC is a public-private partnership established last year by 15 local business owners to foster economic development and create more jobs in the area. The GWCEDC has already developed several leads for potential new businesses in the Warren county area, according to officials with the group.
Warrenton will be joining other public sector members Warren County, Wright City, Truesdale and Jonesburg. The organization is in the middle of a membership drive for the private sector. Membership for local businesses ranges from $250 to $5,000 annually.
The city’s membership will be finalized at a future meeting when an agreement is signed. The city will appoint someone to represent the city on the organization’s board. That appointment was a large part of Tuesday’s board discussion. It was unclear if Economic Development Director Michelle Schlenther or someone else would serve in that role.
The purpose of the audit is to make sure internal controls are in place to make sure the city’s funds are being spent appropriately. GWCEDC members told officials a week earlier a resolution would be reached on the auditing requirement.
Ward 1 Alderman John Cornell agreed the city’s auditing policy needed to be followed, but also supported joining the group.
“I think the risk to reward for the $10,000 investment is worthwhile,” he said.
Prior to the vote, Mayor Jerry Dyer also spoke in favor of the membership.
“I still feel it’s a win-win situation,” he said. “I think we would benefit from it. If we don’t participate in it, they will go on without us. I don’t blame them. I think we may feel bad and regret it down the road.”
The board was initially approached by GWCEDC members in January about joining the organization. Following a presentation made at an aldermanic meeting, some city officials said they were hesitant about committing funds until finding out more information about the group. Multiple board members said they were unaware of the group’s existence though multiple city officials attended initial GWCEDC meetings.
A work session between city officials and GWCEDC members was held April 24 to give aldermen elected earlier in the month a chance to learn about the new economic development effort and to reiterate the city’s interest in the group.
Previously, city officials said that no funds were available in the current budget and would only be available when the next fiscal year began July 1. However, a project that the funds were initially earmarked for is not progressing as quickly as expected and could be funded in next year’s budget, according to Director of Operations/Finance Officer Terri Thorn.
Ward 1 Alderman Phil Tallo reiterated the time spent uncommitted to the group was due to budgetary concerns.
“It wasn’t we were against it,” he said. “It was more of the financial restraints.”