City Manager Mark Kutney’s proposed Economic Development Plan was shared with the city council during the July 28, 2020, special meeting. The plan was well-received by council members.
Rather than open a new department with all new personnel, city staff would be assigned additional duties. Council members directed Kutney to further develop the plan by the Aug. 24, 2020, meeting. They recommended that he hire an assistant to implement it.
During that meeting, Council Member Betty Erhard suggested defunding Brooksville Main Street (BMS) in the FY 2021 budget and using those funds to pay for Kutney’s economic plan instead.
Though Erhard’s suggestion was initially approved by a 3-2 vote, the council reversed the decision at the Aug. 3, 2020, meeting with another 3-2 vote, allowing BMS the opportunity to request funding.
Adding a new position for Economic Development and other expenses could be as much as $150,000 for both departments. Kutney initially planned for Charlene Kuhn, the Special Projects Coordinator, to work with him, he said.
Council’s recommendation to assign someone specific and remove the additional responsibilities from him means Kutney is researching job descriptions for the position in Economic Development. The level and salary range of the position is also important, something between an Administrative Assistant and a manager.
Kutney can prepare but not complete plans until the council makes a final decision whether to fund Brooksville Main Street (BMS) after the Aug. 24 meeting.
Council Member Bill Kemerer expressed concern for the initial time required to develop brochures and databases. That individual hired to handle the duties might be busy the first year or two but would only have to maintain afterward. Kutney disagreed, sharing other goals.
Recruitment is one goal. Kutney would like to encourage business owners from other locations to move to Brooksville. Making contacts with realtors or building owners to see how the city can help is another.
To council member Robert Battista, community connections such as Rotary and Kiwanis are key. In the past, he said, staff members belonged to those organizations and shared information. As business owners, the Rotary or Kiwanis groups responded. Kutney’s assistant should have those skills and not just compile data, he said.
Obtaining grants should be a focus, Battista said, acknowledging that Kuhn has been working on them. He wants someone with more authority than the Special Projects Coordinator to focus on grants and to promote the city to community groups. Kemerer and Brayton agreed, saying, “If you’re going to do it, do it.”
Mayor Joe Bernardini took a different view. Council gave Kutney certain objectives and approved the Special Projects Coordinator position. Kutney’s economic outline calls for the work to be completed by an already overburdened staff, Bernardini said.
Bernardini expressed concern that staff would have difficulty completing their normal duties alone, without adding more. Meetings with realtors and other entities will consume time that should be spent on their regular work, he said. The projected budget of $150,000 is lower than what will be needed, Bernardini remarked.
“It’s going to be a shotgun approach,” Kutney replied. Employees will not spend an inordinate amount of time on these special projects. Kuhn’s background in real estate will be beneficial in helping Kutney ascertain the problems associated with selling or renting properties.
Attending the meeting by phone, Council Member Betty Erhard concurred with both Battista and Bernardini, citing the city clerk’s expanding duties as an example. “If they’re not focused on the job they were hired to do and we start putting more on their plate, what’s falling through the cracks?” she asked.
Erhard supports Kutney’s plan but expressed concern for the person assigned or hired to complete the many tasks and objectives. If they are attending multiple meetings, they cannot fulfill the main objectives.
Kutney said his goal is to make Code Enforcement more efficient by having the Community Development Department work in synchrony with his planned Economic Development Department, which is dependent upon the council’s decision on BMS funding.
In 2018, the city council voted to eliminate a volunteer economic development position. Dr. Dennis Wilfong served as the city’s Ambassador of Commerce and Employment without compensation from 2009-2018 when the city eliminated the position. The position was eliminated in order to allow Kutney to create a more formal description of the position with guidelines and report requirements from the individual who takes on such a role in economic development.