After recently parting ways with a Sacramento-based lobbyist, the San Benito County Board of Supervisors approved funds to support economic development through various non-government organizations at its March 5 meeting.
Supervisors allocated $67,000, originally set aside to fund lobbyist Kim Stone, to the following organizations:
- Monterey County Business Council: $2,000
- Monterey Bay Economic Partnership: $5,000
- Economic Development Corporation: $45,000
- San Benito County Chamber of Commerce: $15,000
San Benito County had already allocated $35,000 to these organizations during the budget hearings for fiscal year 2018-19.
Supervisors voiced concerns about the county getting its money’s worth as discussions focused on increasing funding a local Economic Development Corporation (EDC) for five years in the next budget hearing.
For Supervisor Jaime De La Cruz, he said he had not gotten over the “bad taste” left by the EDC when it was headed by Nancy Martin.
Following a presentation of the five-year plan by EDC Chairman Eric Johnson, De La Cruz said his trust in the organization would not be regained in one day.
“I was embarrassed because I made the motion and I made the push to fund it with her assistance and [the economic return] didn’t happen.”
Johnson said De La Cruz’s concerns were well-founded. The EDC, he said, now has a different level of collaboration, with a clearer strategy and big baseline of information, cooperation and agreement on where the organization wants to go.
De La Cruz said he was also worried about committing San Benito County to a five-year plan ahead of another economic downturn. In response, county budget officer Stewart Patri said the contract can be written in a way that includes an option to stop funding at any time.
For Supervisors Peter Hernandez and Jim Gillio, it was important to have a way to measure the return on the investment.
“To throw money at something, especially with the taxpayer dollars, it puts questions in my mind,” Hernandez said. “At the end of the day we need to have strong measurements and when I hear loose terminology as far as measurements then I don’t feel comfortable with that.”
He said he would like to see the EDC come up with a program in the first year and implement it by the second. Additionally, he said he would prefer monthly, rather than quarterly or annual reports, as Johnson had proposed. The reports would address revenue of current businesses and tax bases, along with developing a business attraction plan, Johnson said.
Supervisor Anthony Botelho, while impressed with the EDC, said he wanted to expand the participation of local businesses and governments.
“To make this next step, we definitely need to have the participation of the city of Hollister,” Botelho said. He also asked that San Benito County be part of the participation board so it can report to the residents when any significant developments happen.
Board Chair Mark Medina said it was a simple decision for him.
“From everyone here I’ve heard we need businesses in this community, we need industry, we need to keep people off the highway, we need to keep people home,” Medina said. “Well, here is our time to actually follow through with what we’re talking about.”
Supervisors also heard from five community members urging the county to fund the EDC. Among them was Bob Tiffany, president and owner of Tiffany Ford and president of the San Benito County Business Council, who said the county needs to be aggressive to compete for dollars that are in Silicon Valley.
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