Supervisors debate regional development group membership

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Discussions continue as to Plymouth County's membership in a regional economic development group.

The Plymouth County Supervisors Tuesday increased the economic development line item from $19,000 to $24,000 in the proposed 2012-13 budget.

Potentially, that would mean the county has dollars set aside to pay the entire $18,739 annual fee to remain a member of the Northwest Iowa Developers group.

However, since the supervisors are still working on the upcoming budget, the increase in economic development dollars has not been officially approved.

Currently, Plymouth is one of six counties, several cities and utility companies belonging to Northwest Iowa Developers group, which works to market the entire region.

Members pay an annual fee, up from this year's fee of 50 cents per capita, or per person, to 75 cents per capita for the 2012-13 fiscal year.

Using that formula, Plymouth County's membership is $18,739 based on its 24,986 residents.

Last year the supervisors began discussing whether to continue the county's membership in the regional group questioning if the county gets its money's worth.

Tuesday Le Mars Mayor Dick Kirchoff and City Administrator Scott Langel laid out benefits they see for continued membership in the Northwest Iowa Developers group.

Kirchoff said he understood the supervisors' hesitation because he, too, had heard comments that Northwest Iowa Developers group is waste of time and money.

However, the mayor noted there is another side to that story.

"I'm going to take just one company or industry because it's a proven fact how the money you've spent has helped in this county," Kirchoff said.

He explained how Northwest Iowa Developers group paid for a survey to compare Iowa's taxes to that of other states prior to IML Containers Iowa's decision to locate in Le Mars.

"It boiled down to tax operations and the way the Northwest Iowa Developers went out and hired an accounting firm to the tune of $20,000," Kirchoff said. "When they did this, they did not come back and ask the county for more money."

Since coming to Le Mars, IML Containers Iowa has brought the county a return on its membership in the regional economic development group, he said.

Kirchoff noted the company built a "brand new building to the tune of $6 million five or six years ago" and recently finished an expansion of that building "to the tune of $3 million."

"If you look at that, I'm sure there's a fair amount of employees working in this company that are living in Plymouth County and paying taxes and that in turn goes back into your general fund," he said.

Langel also emphasized the importance of the county remaining a Northwest Iowa Developers member, especially since it no longer has a full-time economic development person.

He noted the importance of marketing a region, mentioning the 16 industrial business parks, 28 warehouse and storage operations and more than 200 trucking transportation companies found in the existing six-county region.

"Once you get into a group you can see the numbers explode," Langel said. "Those types of numbers get the leads and the prospects."

Kirchoff and Langel indicated they would like the county to continue to fully pay for the membership fee as opposed to asking cities to share a portion of the cost.

Previously the supervisors had discussed asking cities in Plymouth County to pay a portion of the membership fee.

Supervisor Jack E. Guenthner said it would be unfair to ask city of Le Mars residents to shoulder a portion of the fee because they would be paying double taxes.

Property owners would be taxed once by the city of Le Mars' general fund for the city's share of membership costs and again through the county's general fund to help pay the county's portion.

"As a Le Mars taxpayer, I don't think it's proper to double tax me," Guenthner said.

On the other hand, Supervisor Don Kass added that rural property taxpayers had been footing the whole bill for the membership fee.

"Regardless of what's been done in the past, it's unfair to double tax Le Mars residents," Guenthner said.

Supervisor Chairman Jim Henrich thought the membership fee should be paid for out of the county's general fund because "it benefits everybody in the county."

The supervisors indicated they will revisit the county's membership in the regional economic development group next week when budget discussions resume.

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