Battling over who should have responsibility for the city’s economic development has become an annual affair and Tuesday’s city council meeting was no exception.
The Mesquite Region Economic Development organization was asking the city for its annual payment of $190,000 to provide economic development services over the coming year. The monies come from sales of city land and not the general fund.
One of the ongoing arguments is whether the services are best provided by a private organization like MRED or if it should be returned in-house as a city function.
Hiring city employees as director and a full-time assistant would cost approximately $204,000 in salaries and benefits alone. A director and one part-time assistant would cost approximately $148,000. Adding a second part-time assistant would boost that to $165,000. The estimates do not include any of the necessary operational costs such as marketing, travel, training, computers or cell phones.
While not necessarily disputing the costs, Councilwoman Annie Black requested MRED to provide more information and statistics on its outreach to new businesses including more specific metrics. She also wants the organization to focus on bringing more businesses to the “downtown” area.
Black also called for MRED to raise more private donations to offset its costs and not rely solely on city funding. Ultimately, the request was targeted at $15,000 a year. She said that would create more autonomy for MRED and create more buy-in from local businesses.
She pointed out that two businesses who have branches located in Mesquite actively donate to the Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance but not MRED.
While MRED was asking for a five-year contract, Black suggested a shorter two- or three-year contract.
“I would like to see more wins and fewer assists,” Councilman George Rapson said meaning that “assists” are those businesses who already decided to come to Mesquite and needed help navigating city regulations. He added that businesses who use MRED to open up shop, the “wins,” should commit some funding to the organization.
Rapson said it “is clearly cheaper to have MRED than to bring it in-house.” He also said having an outside organization provides more confidentiality to potential businesses.
Councilwoman Sandra Ramaker said “It’s obvious I’m never going to get anyone to agree to bring this back in-house. I believe the city was able to do economic development well back in 2008 before the recession. I believe we can do it cheaper and I think the $190,000 is too high.”
The council discussed the possibility of sending out Request for Proposals (RFP) for alternative organizations to provide economic development services. Ultimately, the council voted 4-1 for a two-year contract, require MRED to raise at least $15,000 in private funding, and for city staff to send out RFPs for alternatives. Council member Ramaker voted no.
The council also voted 3-2 to increase the amount of membership dues paid to the Mesquite Chamber of Commerce from $3,000 to $10,000 per year.
Chamber CEO Carol Kolson said some of the requested increase was a result of the chamber taking more inquiries from tourists since the state visitors center was closed. Colson also said the city would receive more benefits for the higher fee. On top of the $3,000 fee the city pays now, they also pay extra for advertising, monthly luncheons and other benefits. When the extras are added up, the actual amount of increase was only $1,300.
Council members Rapson, Black, and Brian Wursten voted yes and council members Ramaker and George Gault voted no.