Van Wert County Commissioner Todd Wolfrum lays out a proposal to members of the Van Wert City Council on Wednesday evening. The commissioners and the council are searching for a cooperative agreement on a county economic development program. (Kirk Dougal/Times Bulletin)
VAN WERT - The Van Wert County commissioners and Van Wert City Council members met on Wednesday night and the discussion centered on economic development and cooperation.
In the past, communication between the two entities has not always functioned well, but both sides said they were eager to move beyond what has already happened and talk about forming a cooperative agreement covering economic development for the county.
“I think I can speak for all the commissioners when I say there is certainly no ill will from us toward anyone in this room and we are hoping by the end of this that everybody is… if not on the same page, at least headed in the same direction,” said Commission Chair Todd Wolfrum.
Wolfrum began the meeting by explaining that the commissioners started the process of looking at the county economic development program by accepting their responsibility to act if they saw something that was not working correctly. He said the commissioners concluded the past efforts were not as productive as they could have been but he was quick to say they did not believe it was the fault of any particular person. One example he pointed to was the Economic Development Advisory Group which, while filled with good people, the commissioners wondered if it was a good representation of the local business community.
The commissioners proposed a plan for a county economic office that called for a 50/50 split with the city on financing and would be housed in a facility other than the commissioners’ office or the Municipal Building. A board would be created consisting of five members, including two representatives of the commissioners’ choosing, two representatives chosen by the city council, and one final member that all four of those other representatives would need to approve. Wolfrum went on to point out the board’s responsibility would be to manage the Van Wert County economic development director. Commissioner Thad Lichtensteiger reported the commissioners are moving toward naming County Business Outreach Coordinator Sarah Smith as provisional economic development director while a possible agreement was still being discussed.
The commissioners stated that at this point there is no set budget for the economic development office because they did not know how much funding city council would be able or willing to make if an agreement was reached. City Councilman Jerry Mazur offered that if the Convention and Visitors Bureau and Main Street Van Wert were included in a combined office that those organizations could also be in the budget line items so they were fully funded. The commissioners agreed that was one of the reasons for the meeting, so ideas like that could be discussed.
Both sides discussed the proposal in general terms but the overall feeling from the commissioners and the councilpersons was that they were both searching for a path to cooperation.
“I certainly believe, very sincerely, that we need to be united as a city and county, working together, to bring about growth and economic development for this community,” said Commissioner Stan Owens. “I strongly believe that and I am very hopeful that (City Council) give this a lot of thought that we can jointly work together in an equal partnership, 50-50 all the way through, because there is nobody in this room that doesn’t want to see good things happen for Van Wert County.”
“There has always been a rift between the city and county, I don’t know why,” added City Council President Ken Mengerink. “We just couldn’t get anything done and it’s stupid. It’s only hurting us. It is time we did something that brought us back together and make progress. It will be a tough project but it’s time to say ‘What’s best for Van Wert?’”
Mengerink said he and the other city councilpersons present would take the information from the meeting back to the rest of council for discussion and proposed a possible joint session in the future for more talks.