By Steve Hansen
QCS Managing Editor
The Quay County Commission took a first look at a proposed contract between the county and the Greater Tucumcari Economic Development Corp. that would provide regular reports to the county on the EDC’s operations and results.
The commissioners asked for changes in the contract, and the county’s attorney, Warren Frost, said he would make those changes and present the amended draft agreement to the commission in a special meeting on Aug. 20.
The commission asked Frost to devise a contract with the EDC, modeled after the EDC’s contract with the city of Tucumcari, at meeting on July 2 after Commissioner Sue Dowell expressed concern that the county makes annual payments of $50,000 to the EDC without seeking an accounting to the commission from the EDC. At the July 28 commission meeting, Dowell voted “no” on the county budget to protest the $50,000 budgeted for the EDC. The budget passed with “yes” votes from Commissioners Mike Cherry and Brad Bryant.
In discussion on Monday, Dowell asked that a deadline be set for quarterly reports to the county commission on the EDC’s operations and funding, and the commissioners decided the contract should include deadlines of October, January, April and July, which are the months after the close of three-month quarters of the fiscal year.
The commissioners also decided that the contract should say that if the city of Tucumcari pulls out of its contract with the EDC, the county would have the option of continuing to fund the EDC or to pull out, and require a 90-day advance notice of such a move.
The commissioners also decided that the contract should specify that the county will use its own resources to enhance economic development measures, along with those of the EDC.
The city of Tucumcari’s agreement with the EDC calls for the EDC to “provide a full range of economic development services” to the city, and allows the city to assist in any legal way. In addition, the city’s agreement requires the EDC to provide written accountability reports to the city on a quarterly basis that include activities, and account for use of funds provided by the city. The contract also requires the EDC’s representative to meet with commissioners at least once a quarter to answer questions that may arise.
The agreement also requires annual meetings with the city commission to discuss progress and goals and financial statements and accounting reviews.
Other components of the agreement include requiring the EDC to provide preliminary approval for applicants seeking economic development assistance and to work with city officials to obtain approval of assistance requests.
The agreement also says the economic development program’s objectives are to help create jobs through expansions and new locations, increase the number of industrial locations in the city, promote the city as a preferred place for new business; work with existing businesses, as well as new ones; and help expand tourism.
The city agreement also recognizes that the EDC is an independent contractor and not an employee or agency of the city.
The EDC’s executive director Pat Vanderpool said he answers to an 11-member board that includes representatives of the city, county and area business interests.
Individuals can become members of the EDC by paying annual dues of $100. Small businesses can join for $250 per year, he said.
He said what the commission does and what it has accomplished are not widely known, which has led some to question the value of the EDC.
“We have to work on telling our story,” he said, but community leaders should also take some initiative to learn what EDC does.
Some recent examples of EDC accomplishments since 2007, Vanderpool said, include:
• The citing of the Tucumcari Feed Lot near the city, which Vanderpool said was complicated by drought conditions that could affect the supply of cattle for the feed operation.
• Lobbying for capital outlays that provided $1.4 million to renovate the Tucumcari Train Depot.
• Financing of an infrastructure study that found Tucumcari can support a racetrack/casino with a hotel added.
• Assisting in the establishment of the Children’s Haven Day Care business, which received $10,000 in improvements. A year later, a new state inspector required improvements of at least that much, Vanderpool said, and the business could not afford to make the new improvements.
• Recruiting Bob Hockaday, a scientist and inventor, to Tucumcari and promoting his commercial inventions. Hockaday is working on a way to regulate oil viscosity using renewable resources and seeks to convert the abandoned ethanol manufacturing plant near Tucumcari into a waste-to-energy facility.
At Monday’s meeting Dowell defended her efforts to hold the EDC accountable.
“I don’t think we should be all Pollyanna when things need to be improved,” she said. “We need to work together and make things better.” She said she put in about 40 hours reviewing the EDC’s performance and accountability before she raised the issues.
The experience of the past 20 years or so, she said, indicates the county needs to diversify its economy.
“If we keep doing the same things the same way,” she said, “we’re not going to get different results.”
She said she is still “somewhat shocked” by the lack of accountability in the county’s contributions to the EDC.
“I will keep asking questions and raising issues,” she said. “I don’t think all is rosy in Quay County.”