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2014-08-28

No economic development in sight for city

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

By a 2-4 decision, members of the City of Bandera Economic Development Corporation ensured that no economic development would take place in the municipality in the foreseeable future.
The main topic of discussion during the Wednesday, August 20, EDC meeting was to discuss and approve a Strategic Economic Development Plan as submitted by the Austin-based TXP, Inc., a firm specializing in economic analysis and public policy consulting.
Earlier, both EDC and city council had approved the appointment of an ad hoc committee to devise a plan to jumpstart Bandera's economy. The committee was comprised of bankers Sully Woodland and Roy Thompson, businessmen Don Giles and Gary Johnston and Precinct 1 Commissioner Robert "Bob" Grimes, who worked with EDC Chairman Johnny Boyle on a strategic economic development project.
TXP support
After reviewing three companies, Woodland said that TXP seemed the "best fit" for Bandera because TXP President John Hockenyos recognized that local small business and retail venue growth were just as important to maintaining Bandera's "quality of place" as recruiting appropriate industries. "Mr. Hockenyos will be involved in the process and that really means a lot to me," Woodland said. Other cities that have benefited from TXP guidance have included the cities of Kerrville, Dripping Springs, Lockhart and Bastrop.
Cost for the Strategic Economic Development Plan would be $47,500 with a completion date of four months.
Woodland said TXP would incorporate an updated city master plan into the economic development plan. "The best future for Bandera is to have a solid economic development plan," he noted.
"Having fresh eyes dedicated to helping grow Bandera's economy is critical," said Patricia Moore, who is not only a city resident, but also serves as executive director of the Bandera County Convention and Visitors Bureau. "If we don't keep Bandera growing and the businesses vital, Bandera will dry up." She added, "Lockhart is already seeking part of our tourist dollars." Billed as the Barbecue Capital of Texas, Lockhart has been the site of over 50 films.
"Bandera has been blessed with five individuals with economic experience, who interviewed and came up with a company that will help," Moore continued. "New eyes are always good."
Proactive vs. reactive
Telling EDC, "It's always better to be proactive than reactive," event coordinator Genie Strickland noted that council had let the city's master plan sit on a shelf for far too long. "We have to work together to help Bandera move forward. We must invest in the community to help it grow in the right way. If we work to better the community, we can move forward."
Giles said TXP would give the city tools and steps to deliver necessary infrastructure, including a new water treatment facility, which has been described as the "number one priority."
He added, "The master plan is the point of reference. The county and city will need more money next year. It's a question of whether the tax rate on city residents will increase or whether there will be more people paying the taxes." Giles said the funding for the TXP Strategic Economic Development Plan is already in the EDC budget and has been approved. However, all EDC projects must be brought before city council for their approval.
Also speaking in favor of the economic development plan as outlined by TXP was Kelly Smith and Marla Hueske of the Bandera County Chamber of Commerce, Jaki Perkins of Hill Country State Bank and Sarah Schlesinger and David Mauk of the Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District.
Conspicuously absent was a representative from the Bandera Business Association, the motto of which is "Helping Bandera Grow."
Dreaded 'but' monkey
EDC member Thomas "Charlie" Fellows' main objection seemed to be that representatives of TXP were not at the meeting making their own pitch. He was told that Hockenyos had spoken at an EDC meeting earlier in the spring.
"TXP has the best feel for what Bandera is while the other firms just seemed to read from a script. To them, Bandera could have been Ingram. TXP will give us a roadmap," Boyle said. "We've had master plans in 1987, 2000 and 2010 that are just 'dust collectors'." According to Boyle, TXP would devise an action plan to augment the master plan. "They will improve the quality of life, preserve the historic district and western motif and create jobs to make the community grow.
After thanking everyone for the comments that favored hiring TXP, EDC member Martha Shoemaker, designated point woman for the opposition, offered the obligatory "but," noting, "Council has not determined that this is the master plan from which we will be working." She also said the community has not spoken that this is what it wants. "(The master plan) should be edited before we bring in an outside source."
Shoemaker instead advocated appointing a taskforce to work under the authority of the EDC or city council to review the areas of City Park, the historic district and economic development. City council would likely assign the EDC as gatekeepers or caretakers to this process.
"Who would take leadership for that?" Boyle asked.
For the first of many times, Shoemaker indicated that EDC takes its marching orders from city council. As someone later pointed out, however, if EDC merely served as an extension of council, what would be the point of having an EDC in the first place? In the interest of smaller government, EDC should be disbanded with council assuming the corporation's duties.
Historically, EDC identifies projects that contribute to the economic development of the community, and then presents the projects to city council for approval. As a now-veteran member of the EDC, Shoemaker should been aware of the process.
In response to Shoemaker's "but," Strickland noted that the city already has a master plan. "We need to hire a professional for the next level. We never get beyond the talking stage."
Shoemaker reiterated, "The EDC needs to take on the responsibility to formulate a taskforce as an extended arm of the EDC or council. Making a decision tonight is premature."
Waiting, waiting,
waiting
County resident Robert Koimn, whose version of the 2010 master plan had been rejected by council, commented, "The adopted master plan was the condensed version without appendices." He advocated that council put on hold plans for economic development and for Bandera City Park until appendices were formulated. Koimn's version of the master plan had expanded to more than twice the size of that submitted by Urban Design Associates.
Strickland asked, "How much longer will we have to wait to get started?"
"There is no timetable," Shoemaker replied. And, she added, taskforces mentioned in the master plan to oversee various city components had never been assigned. Nobody disputed that fact since none of the recommendations outlined in the master plan had been enacted.
"At some point we have to have someone implement the (master) plan. The city hasn't moved on in four years," Boyle said.
Strickland said that the city needs the assistance of a professional group such as TXP to take things to the next level in Bandera. "We already have a master plan," she insisted. "We never get beyond talking. Something needs to get started."
Seeming to agree, Shoemaker said, "The EDC needs to take on the responsibility to formulate the task force as an extended arm of the EDC or council. Making this decision is premature."
By now thoroughly confused, Woodland remarked, "I thought the best thing to do for Bandera would be to allow our group to oversee implementation (of any proposed strategic development plan). Give us a place to start and allow this to move forward. A plan is only as good as its implementation. TXP will complete the economic plan in a four-month time and give us the expertise to move forward."
He continued, "We've been waiting to present (our proposal) to the board, but apparently we're just going to keep talking. When are we going to move forward?"
Ditching master plan?
Giles likened the master plan to an automobile with "a lot of equity but no gas in the tank." The strategic development plan would provide the gas, he added.
"We don't know if the owner of the vehicle is about to trade it in," Shoemaker rejoined.
"Is this master plan about to be ditched?" Boyle asked pointedly.
Backpedaling rapidly, Shoemaker replied, "I'm not saying that and neither can you."
Putting the master plan vs. master plan notion to rest, Moore noted that one had been posted on the city's website since 2010. She said, "We must assume this is the master plan. The EDC takes an active role in spearheading activities, showing leadership and using funding to augment proposals. TXP can bring expertise to us."
Pointing out the obvious to EDC, she noted, "You created the taskforce (committee) and they came back to you with their recommendations."
No ???, just 'no' votes
In the end, EDC ignored the arguments and pleas from bankers, businessmen and representatives of the Chamber and CVB. Only Boyle and Lynn Palmer voted in favor of hiring TXP to create a strategic economic development plan for the city of. Shoemaker, Fellows, Esther Maldonado and Joe Hearn voted against the motion. Interestingly, throughout the spirited discussion, neither Hearn nor Maldonado asked a question or contributed to the dialogue and Fellows' question barely made a ripple.
Speculation after the meeting included a consensus that even had EDC approved the motion, it would never have passed muster at city council.
As one city-watching wag remarked, "They ought to be called the NEDC - No Economic Development Corporation."