Monday, November 24, 2014

Hugo Town Board nixes LCEDC

By Will Bublitz

At its Monday, Nov. 10 meeting, the Hugo Board of Trustees decided against making any further financial contributions to the Lincoln County Economic Development Corporation (LCEDC) starting next year.

In a unanimous vote, the trustees approved a motion to discontinue its annual payment to LCEDC in the Town of Hugo’s 2015 budget. The recommendation to axe next year’s contribution was proposed during a recent budget workshop by the board.

Before voting on the budget motion, Mayor Patsie Smith expressed her dissatisfaction with LCEDC’s performance in promoting economic development in Hugo.

Several of the trustees also criticized the apparent lack of results, including Tony Bandy who said the Town of Hugo has given “a total of $36,000 since LCEDC since it began in 2005 and we have seen that amount of new business from it.” 

While they nixed next year’s contributions, the trustees did approve the payment of the second half of its 2014 contribution to LCEDC. The total payment for this year was $5,900. The trustees said they felt obligated to make the payment.

“We need to pay it as a show of good faith,” Trustee John Thelen said. “But we would like to have seen some results.”

Bandy agreed, saying he thought the board was “committed to pay in 2014” despite its dissatisfaction.

Both decisions by the board followed a presentation at Monday’s meeting by Lisa Nolder, LCEDC’s executive director. She described it as her first six-month report after taking over the local corporation’s top job on April 1.

In her presentation, Nolder said she had been meeting with business owners across the county and discussing ways that LCEDC can help them. As part of that effort, she had started a Business Retention Program to identify “potential risk factors to local businesses, expansion or contraction plans, as well as identifying assistance issues that may be resolved through assistance that LCEDC is able to provide.”

As a result of that program, Nolder said “17 local business assistance issues had been resolved.” Among those 17 were four businesses in Hugo.

Nolder went onto argue that if Lincoln County and its communities want to attract new businesses and other growth, they have to prepare for it. She said that local schools, housing, existing businesses, county and town governments “all have to meet at the same table” to determine what they have to do to deal with the problems and opportunities that economic development may bring.

“If we don’t seize these opportunities, these businesses will go elsewhere,” she said. “We’ve got to prepare for growth or be prepared to explain why we didn’t embrace it when it was offered.”

In response, Trustee Dave Dobbs said he felt Nolder was “talking down” to the board about its commitment to economic development. Nolder apologized but explained that she felt “alarmed that we are not prepared” to seize opportunities or handle major growth in the local area.

Trustee Bandy also questioned Nolder’s claims about meeting with local businesses. He said that he had personally conducted a survey of Hugo businesses, but they “had never heard of you.”

Responding, Nolder said she had not been able to meet with all businesses because she is dealing with five communities in Lincoln County. Questioned further on the four Hugo businesses that had received LCEDC business assistance, Nolder said she could not reveal their names due to strict confidentiality agreements with them.

At the end of this discussion, Ben Orrell, president of the Hugo Economic Development Group (HEDG), said the town has to commit to doing some strategic planning because “I’m not sure where we are going as a town.”

Thursday’s meeting began with some potentially good news for the town’s future growth. In a 15-minute presentation, Sonja Robinson told the board of her plans to develop the Solomon Addition as a 90-home subdivision beginning in 2015.

Describing herself as a “realtor, investor and developer,” Robinson said the proposed subdivision would be constructed in three phases. The homes, which would include both custom-built and manufactured models, would range in price from $110,000 to $120,000 and $150,000 to $190,000. She told the trustees that she already has “six potential buyers” for the subdivision’s first homes.

While still working out the financing and other details for the project, Robinson said she would be coming back to the board in the coming months to to ask for the town’s assistance with the subdivision’s streets, water/sewer lines and other infrastructure.

In other business at Thursday’s meeting, the board approved raising water rates by $18 from a monthly base fee of $72 to $90. The fee increase will begin January 1, 2015. During its October meeting, the board had also approved an increase in water tap fees.

In a 3-2 vote, the board approved a $200-per-month pay increase for Teresa Johnson, the town’s Administrative Assistant, to be included in the 2015 budget. Citing Johnson’s responsibilities and hard work, Trustee Sam Emmerling had proposed the pay raise be included in the 2015 budget.

The final approval of the Town of Hugo’s 2015 budget will be made at the board’s next meeting on December 8. Prior to the vote on budget, a public hearing will be held during that meeting.

Board approval was also given Monday for the purchase of a used 33-horsepower tractor for $15,500 and a mower attachment for $2,500. The town’s Public Works Department plans to use it primarily for mowing, but may also employ it for some snow removal and other tasks.

The board’s decisions during Monday’s meeting included the approval of Open Records Policy. It deals with access to the town’s public records only. The policy brings the Town of Hugo into compliance with new state laws.

In her monthly report, Town Clerk Maria Nestor informed the board that the search for a new Hugo Chief Marshal is making progress with a total of eight applications received by the November 7 deadline. She said three of the applicants were Colorado Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST)-certified and five were from out-of-state law enforcement officers. The board’s Public Safety Committee plans to review the applications on Wednesday, Nov. 12.

The search for a new Chief Marshal became necessary after the surprise resignation on September 17 of Joy Hemby who had served in that position for two years.

In a related matter at Monday’s meeting, Mayor Smith read a handwritten letter that criticized the town’s treatment of Hemby. The anonymous letter was signed “Five Mad-As-Hell Residents.”

Nestor, the town’s clerk, also reported that Town Attorney Stan Kimble had informed her that a district court judge had recently denied an appeal by a defendant over her conviction in a Hugo traffic case. The defendant, who is a trial lawyer, indicated that she plans to appeal the case all the way to the Colorado Supreme Court.

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