By RUSSELL HUFFMAN
STEPHENVILLE (January 24, 2015) — It’s plain to see people around Stephenville are interested in economic development as an estimated 50 of them gathered to hear about the groundwork for a Type A or Type B sales tax election in Stephenville Fire Department’s Station No. 2 training room Thursday evening.
Attorney Jeff Moore laid out the groundwork and numbers associated with such an election. Then he made the recommendation the city consider Type B. While the word “tax” makes the average person cringe it’s not about raising taxes. Instead, it’s about how the money will be spent, if it will be spent at all.
Leadership from Stephenville, Tarleton State University, the Stephenville Economic Development Foundation (STEDCO) and the Stephenville Chamber of Commerce were on hand for the presentation and question and answer session. If such an election were to come about this year, and held in a uniform election timeframe, the council must act quickly and have the item on the agenda for their February 3 meeting.
That would give the council opportunity to call for an election before February 27, or 71 days prior to the May 9, 2015 uniform election date.
The type A sales tax works primarily on job employer projects with 216 Texas cities currently using the type A economic development sales tax.
Type B sales tax is used by 492 cities in Texas and can undertake all of the same projects as type A. It also has “quality-of-life” projects such as public parks, riverwalks, etc.. A type B sales tax will result in a projected $450,000 loss in revenue for the city because the money will be going into different brackets so to speak.
Mayor Kenny Weldon opened the meeting and used the acronym C.A.R.E, which stands for creation, attraction, retention and expansion.
“We’re looking for a shared vision and action plan supported by the community, community organizations and our educational institutions,” Weldon said.
In opening the meeting, Weldon referred to Moore as the “LeBron James” of economic development. That may be a well-deserved title after considering he is the city attorney for Roanoke, where property taxes have not risen in 20 years.
Economic development has played heavily on the council’s minds as the local median income in Stephenville is $33,821, while statewide it’s $50,740. The Stephenville area also has a current poverty level of 29.1 percent.
At the same time, there have been glimmers of economic development everywhere around town. Examples include the recent purchase of the old Coca-Cola building and plans for a small strip mall, and the complete demolition of a hotel with more plans for businesses. Downtown Stephenville has seen a couple of restaurants appear around the courthouse square, all signs people have an interest in Stephenville.
As city finance director Walter Wood pointed out, there are some risks involved. Should overall growth in Stephenville slow down or property assessment values fall, the city could see a budget shortfall of $450,000, which will have to be made up. If things continue at a good pace and growth continues, then belts won’t need to be tightened. Even if Stephenville votes in a sales tax, the money won’t just suddenly pile into the coffers. There is a three-month period prior to collection, and real money would not start to be seen until December.
Tarleton Vice president of Finance Tye Minckler pointed out there needs to be a balance when a university is potentially able to reach the same population as the town. The university has also been using up some of its previously unutilized assets.
“There is no guarantee of state funding in the future, and we need to explore all viable areas,” Minckler said.
Tarleton made it clear its intentions of supporting any mission involving economic development.
“It’s a necessary part of training our students,” said Dr. Barbara Nemecek, who serves as Tarleton’s Dean of the College of Business Administration, the largest college on the campus. “We can be very involved and be very helpful to the city.”
Nemecek also has firsthand experience working in economic development.
Stephenville Economic Development Foundation President Willie DeJong also has firsthand experience, and was seen taking notes and paying close attention to the presentation, though his thoughts were a little guarded.
“I think the focus on trying to get something started in economic development is spot on,” DeJong said. “As the mayor said in his presentation, a strategic plan and long-term vision all need to be brought into this whole process. The only thing I did get a little bit nervous about is dedicating a dollar amount to just one thing.”
DeJong said he would like to see a unified long-term strategy implemented.
“We already have the tools in the box,” he said. “Maybe this makes those tools more politically available to use. That’s not a bad thing, that’s a good thing.”
Mayor Weldon pointed out the money was indeed already there, and if an election was successful the city might look at funding a portion of an employee’s salary for a period, “maybe 40-60.” That employee then might wear a couple of hats until the job of economic development got fully rolling.
Typical projects under the sales tax include infrastructure necessary to promote or develop new or expanded business, streets and roads, rail spurs, water and sewer utilities, electric utilities, gas utilities, drainage, site improvements and more.
Because Stephenville has a population less than 20,000, there is an additional enhancement for a type B corporation where a project also includes the land, buildings, equipment, facilities, expenditures, targeted infrastructure and improvements found by the corporation’s board of directors to promote new or expanded business development.
One citizen in the audience pointed out students are graduating from Tarleton and are moving away because there’s nothing to keep them here.
“I feel many of them would stay if there were jobs,” Nemecek said.
One project between Tarleton, STEDCO and Stephenville is Entrepreneurs of Erath (EOErath), a program designed to help a new or existing business with a comprehensive business plan where tens of thousands of dollars are being awarded.
Learn more about this project https://theflashtoday.com/tag/entrepreneurs-of-erath/ and http://www.eoerath.com/#!