EDC talks grants, interim director

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

The Liberty Hill Economic Development Corporation (EDC) briefly discussed an outline of a new grant program focused on business impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but plans won’t be finalized until the board’s May meeting.

The basic outline of the proposal would be to take $100,000 of EDC funds and make available up to 20 grants for up to $5,000 each for local businesses.

“What this is is we are going to be setting aside $100,000 out of the EDC coffers to help businesses in Liberty Hill that have been effected by the Coronavirus,” said Board President Johnny Johnston. “The Board will review the applications. We have no responsibility to automatically give anybody any money at all. We can flat refuse to do that or we can decide to cut the amount from $5,000 to between $0 and $5,000.”

The draft criteria stipulates to be eligible a business must have 50 or fewer employees, have a publicly accessible location within the corporate limits of Liberty Hill, must not be home-based, have been in continuous operation over the previous 12 months, in good standing with the City regarding fees and financial obligations, and must provide a current sales tax certificate.

Businesses must also demonstrate current or anticipated declining revenue beginning March 1, 2020, due to the impact of COVID-19.

“We have the total discretion in giving out this money and they have to provide documentation of why they need it and how they’ve been affected,” Johnston said. “There’s a whole laundry list of questions they’re asked and required to fill out. If they don’t fill it out in total then we automatically reject it.”

Though no decision was voted on regarding the application or eligibility, Johnston said it would focus on local businesses.

“It is not for big corporations or anything like that,” he said.

There were a few questions raised by board members, though, including Council member Liz Rundzieher wanting more specifics on which businesses would be eligible.

Board member Jamie Etzkorn also questioned the time period a business had to be open to qualify for assistance.

“My only concern is that we have had so many retail businesses and restaurants open within the last eight months that if we put they had to have been in business one year that we could potentially lose some really great businesses here in Liberty Hill,” Etzkorn said. “I think we may need to think about that.”

With details needing to be ironed out, Johnston asked for a committee to work out details to have something to vote on at the next meeting.

“I think there is some legwork we need to do since we haven’t been able to meet and talk about all these things,” Johnston said. “This is something that doesn’t need to sit on the shelf for a while.”

The Board named Rundzieher, Etzkorn and John Clark to a committee to work on the issue and bring it back for consideration at the May 20 meeting.

Interim director
Based on the proposed duties spelled out in the draft job description, the Board approved the appointment of Matt Powell as the interim director of the EDC at 20 hours per week and a cost not to exceed $3,500 per month.

Powell is currently under contract with the City and worked with Mayor Rick Hall on the city administrator search and will head the city charter committee. The first contract dated Aug. 29 with Powell Municipal is billed at an hourly rate, but based on a sliding scale with an overall rate dependent on how many hours of work is done. Up to and including 10 hours of consulting services monthly the City would pay $2,100. If 11 through 15 hours of service are provided the monthly charge would be $3,050 and 16 up through 20 hours will be billed at $3,890. Above 20 hours the City will be billed at $175 per additional hour.

Job posting
The board approved the posting of a hiring ad for the vacant position of EDC Executive Director, vacant since late March when Lance Dean resigned.

“The backlog of e-mails, phone calls and messages are overflowing,” Johnston said. “And I don’t have time to address that.”

The draft job description included in the meeting materials included a salary range between $98,051.20 and $137,259.20. In January 2020, Dean’s salary was $100,180.86 according to a salary report provided by the City. The Board was not able to vote on an official job description April 30, but plans to do so at its next meeting.

The vote in March to accept Dean’s resignation was unanimous, with Director Steve Snell absent, and followed a 50-minute executive session on the matter.

As part of the motion accepting the resignation, the Board also “authorized the EDC Board President to enter into a consulting services agreement on the terms discussed in executive session”, but no more information regarding that process was made available between the March and April meetings.

The Board first put Dean’s future with the Liberty Hill EDC in question at a Feb. 20 meeting when it voted not to renew his contract.

In that meeting, called for the sole purpose of discussing the issue in executive session, the Board chose not to renew the contract – which is structured to be renewed annually – based on the desire to make changes to that contract.

According to Johnston at the time, no details of the decision could be shared because the issue was a personnel matter taken up in executive session.

When asked in February why the Board chose not to renew the contract versus negotiate changes through the renewal process, Johnston insisted it was necessary to vote to non-renew it.

“We didn’t want it to stand for another year,” he said. “We had to cancel so it would not renew.”

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