Van Wert Mayor Don Farmer announces the signing of an amended and restated agreement with OSU Extension for operating a economic development office for the City of Van Wert. (Times Bulletin/Ed Gebert)
Van Wert Mayor Don Farmer announces the signing of an amended and restated agreement with OSU Extension for operating a economic development office for the City of Van Wert. (Times Bulletin/Ed Gebert)

BY ED GEBERT
Times Bulletin Editor
egebert@timesbulletin.com

VAN WERT -- The City of Van Wert helped bring Ohio State University Extension to this county in 1991, when then-Mayor Stan Agler signed an agreement which created the economic development office. Some 23 years later, the city confirmed the continuation of that partnership. 

Monday night, Van Wert Mayor Don Farmer announced that he had signed an amended and restated agreement with OSU Extension which continued 
the economic development office and named Cindy Leis as Van Wert (City) Economic Development Director.

The agreement had connected the city, the county, and the Extension program, however the Van Wert County Commissioners pulled out of that deal on Dec. 5, 2013. The commissioners had tried to recruit the city into joining with the county in a new structure without OSU Extension with the commissioners being ultimately responsible for the effort. However many in city government did not like the idea of leaving OSU Extension.

"It is important for the City of Van Wert, the community, and the stakeholders that the edonomic development operations and goals be kept free from political oversight..." Farmer declared. "The office must be kept free of political whims and wishes."

When the commissioners pulled out of the deal with the city and OSU, they hinted at a new structure they wanted to set up which would combine efforts within county stakeholders. Details of that plan have not been settled, as the commissioners were waiting to see the city's next move. 

The county's withdrawl from the OSU Extension deal was done without giving a one-year notice as the contract required. OSU officials agreed to let the county out of the contract with no further obligation. Farmer stated that with the amended agreement, the one-year notice clause remains in effect and that he would honor that stipulation.

"This mayor will never ask to terminate the agreement short of the one-year notice. That same term is in this agreement," said Farmer.

A key point is the funding of an economic development effort. The previous agreement between the city, the county, and OSU was funded largely by  using the hotel/motel tax receipts. That money is generated by the city. The new agreement will also be largely funded by that city tax revenue.

"No general fund money is used to support this agreement," Farmer stressed.

The new agreement takes effect on March 1, 2014. It places Cindy Leis into the role as Van Wert (City) Economic Development Director. The Van Wert County Commissioners have the right to name the Van Wert County Economic Development Director by Ohio Revised Code. Currently Sarah Smith is the Acting Van Wert County Economic Development Director.

Not everyone in Council Chambers Monday night was pleased by the mayor's announcement. Council members had discussed hosting the commissioners for a discussion and proposal of the new county structure possibilities. That summit never occurred as council had proposed.

"From what I understand, you have gone ahead and signed a contract without having the meeting that we had discussed previously with the commissioners," questioned Third Ward Councilman Jerry Mazur. "We have not had the opportunity to bring the commissioners in to make a presentation to council."

Farmer countered, "There have not been any attempts at negotiations in working with the commissioners. We have not been able, nor has OSU been able."

Councilman-at-large Stan Agler agreed. 

"My opinion, my experience, having attended about four meetings with the commissioners... we were not really asked to give our opinion at the time," he stated. "In fact, we advised them at the earliest of the direction we should take would be to lay out duties of their person that they wished to elevate to that position for the county. We were told they were going to go ahead and fund it themselves. And we said that we were going to have a problem down the road. We're going to do it anyway, was what they implied."

Mazur rebutted, "I differ with you in the recollection of the last meeting that was held in the commisssioner's office. I believe they put a concept on the table and they asked for comments about how we structure this. I think we owe that consideration to economic development so we can bring this together as a unified government program within the county and city of Van Wert."

"We weren't asked there to give opinion. We weren't asked there to give advice. We were being told what they were going to do," Agler stressed. "We had subsequent meetings. Each time they did not meet with the idea of joining. It was more of a separation. This is what they desired, and this is what I believe finally has been achieved. It's not our doing. They withdrew. They withdrew from the contract."

For the time being, the move sets up two economic development offices with two different executives. The city office will work in conjunction with OSU Extension using the hotel/motel tax revenue as a funding source with the economic advisory group setting the agenda. The county office will be funded by the county with the commissioners controlling those efforts.

But even with two different offices either in place or soon to be in place, Farmer did not rule out the possibility of more talks to combine forces. 

"This does not shortcut the presentation that the commissioners might have, nor does it shortcut the presentation that the economic advisory group has," Farmer explained.