Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Business leaders oppose cuts to economic office

By Cheryl Mattix
Cecil Whig

Business leaders in Cecil County oppose cuts to the county's Department of Economic Development, saying a recession is not the time to cut this effort.

Several business supporters are expected to testify today at two public hearings on the proposed $162 million county operating budget that trims spending and maintains a constant yield tax rate.

Cecil County commissioners are proposing to cut the economic development office's request by $110,610, targeting the elimination of a marketing specialist position, $22,500 membership dues in the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore and $27,500 in additional miscellaneous cuts.

Tom Sadowski, president and CEO of the EAGB, is scheduled to talk to commissioners today during a work session to explain the value of a membership.

"What message does this send to other members of the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore if Cecil County cuts its membership?" asked Carl Roberts, a member of the Cecil County Economic Development Commission.

Roberts and several other EDC members expressed their outrage last week that the county is contemplating elimination of this membership and economic development marketing as ways to trim the budget this year.

"This is penny-wise and pound foolish," Roberts said of the $22,500 cut. "This is an example of not understanding our future."

Director of Economic Development Vernon Thompson told the EDC last week that the county worked hard to get a membership in this organization that he describes as a valuable marketing tool.

"We have more in common with Baltimore than we do with Kent and Queen Anne's counties," Roberts said.

Commissioner Robert Hodge, who attended last week's EDC meeting along with Commissioner Tari Moore, told Roberts that former board President Brian Lockhart and current President Jim Mullin don't attend the meetings, so the membership hasn't been taken advantage of by the board.

"Shame on us," Roberts said. "Not taking advantage of this is a reason to re-focus efforts, not cut," he said.

EDC members told Mike Ratchford, a W.L. Gore Associate and chairman of the EDC, to send a letter to commissioners supporting funding the marketing position and the membership in the EAGB.

Paula Gilley, a member of the Board of Realtors and EDC, said the Board of Realtors is also in support of the full budget request for the office of economic development.

Gary Stewart of Stewart Properties, a development and investment company, said the budget being proposed by the county commissioners sends a mixed message.

"They say they want business development, yet they don't support it in their budget," Stewart said.

"You just don't cut economic development in a recession," he said.

Hodge reminded EDC members that the county has a limited pot of money to work with and they are not going to raise taxes.

"It's unrealistic for you to believe you'll get everything you want," he said.

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