For the new fiscal year that began Oct. 1, the Board of Supervisors has reversed its earlier decision and reinstated $30,000 of additional funding for the Marion County Economic Development District.
The board originally decided on Aug. 29 to give that much more to economic development as part of a plan to get closer in funding to the levels before 2017, when large cuts were made.
The increase was to be funded as a small part of a proposed 4.4-mill property tax hike, but after public complaints about raising taxes, the board changed its course and decided not to increase the millage rate. In making budget cuts to keep from raising taxes, the $30,000 was taken away.
On Oct. 9 discussion about the economic development came up again, though. In a 3-2 vote, the board opted to restore the funding. Supervisors Calvin Newsom, Randy Dyess and Terry Broome voted for it with Tony Morgan and Raymon “Tater” Rowell against it.
“We were talking and knew it was very hard for the economic development to make it with the decrease to their budget,” Broome, the board president, said. “Economic development is very important for our county to grow.”
Rowell said the reason he voted against it was because there was no new revenue to support the increase. He said he is concerned now about having to go into the general fund as is and did not think it was a good idea.
Morgan said, “We agreed not to go up on the taxes. We decided to start cutting the budget to save money. Now it has been decided to put money back in when we already voted not to.”
Columbia Mayor Justin McKenzie said he’s “very happy” to see the funds allocated.
“Economic development is the key to our community, key to the growth and vital in the negotiations,” he said. “Through the economic development some big companies including Crown Laundry and Looks Great Services as well as others, have made their home here in Marion County. The funding is needed to maximize its full potential one company at a time.”
The Marion County Economic Development District is the public economic development entity in the county, while the Marion County Development Partnership is the private arm, a typical arrangement for economic development organizations in the state.
MCDP President Lori Watts said she was not aware of the increase in the budget until she received a phone call from one of the board members. Watts said when the 2019-2020 budget request was submitted, it was hoped the board would give them enough to fully fund their budget in the amount of $261,462. That is what the county budgeted for economic development before cuts were made in 2017.
When the budget was initially approved this September, economic development received the same amount as the year before, $200,165. Now with the additional $30,000, the budget has been increased to $230,165.
“The Boards of the Marion County Economic Development District and the Marion County Development Partnership are pleased and encouraged by the decision of the Board of Supervisors to restore some of the funding to economic development and business services,” Watts said. “Supporting economic development is investing in the future and actively pursuing possible solutions to address the challenges of our community.
“The lack of funding, due to the budget cuts of 2017, has hampered our ability to move forward and progress. Competing communities are upping their game, not slowing down. With continued unfunded projects and programs, the ground we are losing will become more and more evident,” she said. “We believe that Columbia/Marion County can become the best place to live and grow a business in the Southeast. Every day we seek to work with efficiency, effectiveness and excellence to bring businesses, elected officials and other stakeholders together, with that shared vision, to make it so, and to spread the word.”