EDC panel agrees it should help existing businesses

Citing a number of businesses that have closed their doors in Liberty Hill in recent weeks, members of the City’s Economic Development Corp. on Tuesday agreed that part of the organization’s mission should be to assist and help retain existing businesses.

Meeting in a workshop Tuesday evening, the Board of Directors addressed a number of topics including the EDC’s mission statement, its budget, and the roles of the EDC, the Chamber of Commerce, the City, and an ad hoc committee in fostering economic development.

EDC President Frank Spinosa told directors that a number of businesses have closed this fall. Among those he identified were The Citren Group, Teresa’s Dixie Kitchen, Shelly’s Bakery & Cafe, Liberty Hill Office Supply, Z’s Floral and State Farm Insurance.

“That’s a cryin’ shame,” he said, adding that the EDC and other organizations should work together to help existing businesses as well as attract new ones to Liberty Hill.

Members tossed about various ideas to help existing local businesses market themselves online and in print. They also agreed to host a town hall-type event to solicit community input into the types of businesses taxpayers would like to see in Liberty Hill.

When directors asked city staff how much money was available for EDC projects, they learned that although about $400,000 is on the books now, that number could drop by as much as 50 percent in the coming months.

City Manager Manuel De La Rosa said that a petition submitted to the City last week containing the signatures of about 50 Liberty Hill voters put the Council in the position of having to look to EDC funds to pay for infrastructure improvements.

The petitioners protested the planned use of low-interest certificate of obligation bonds to connect two new water wells to the water source. The wells are being constructed with grant funds awarded by the County, but connecting them to a water source could cost from $150,000 to $200,000.

The petition had the effect of limiting the Council’s funding choices to either  higher-interest loans that would cost taxpayers more money or use of EDC funds.

“There’s no reason to start recruiting businesses if we don’t have these water wells,” said De La Rosa.

A review of EDC expenditures showed $50,000 had been budgeted to pay a portion of the City Manager’s salary. Legal fees related to the City’s purchase of a wastewater treatment plant are also being paid with EDC funds.

The Board revisited a discussion  held at its first meeting regarding the role of an ad hoc committee created by the previous Board to provide input.

“All I see is that this ad hoc committee is a confusing factor,” said Spinosa. “They did nothing.”

“You’re saying here that you want input, but not having an ad hoc committee doesn’t make sense,” said Cathy Cantrell, who as the Board’s former President, appointed the Public-Private Partnership Committee last summer. “I can’t see shutting them down. We need them.”

The Board will meet again at 7 p.m. Jan. 3 in the Council Chamber at which time it plans to take action on the ad hoc committee.