Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation board member Mark Weiler made a dramatic offer to the town council during its Nov. 15 work session after the CDC submitted a request for $100,000 in funding for 2013.
“The entire board of directors of the CDC feels that the community needs this entity,” Weiler asserted, “and that we are an impediment to financing, so we would like you to consider how you would want the CDC constituted, because we feel the needs of the community are more important than our individual work here, and we offer our resignation. We feel that some of us are the barriers to working together in the future.”
Weiler claimed to be speaking on behalf of the other CDC board members present in the Town Hall council chamber (Morgan Murri was out of the country at the time). However, in a later interview CDC Chairperson Muriel Eason denied making any agreement to resign her position in exchange for town council funding the CDC.
“The CDC Board met for a work session prior to the Town Council meeting to determine a spokesperson and frame our final request for funding,” Eason explained. “We decided to use Mark Weiler as our spokesperson. He was a one-time town councilman, was well-known and respected by the mayor and others on town council and is the consummate, articulate salesman. We thought he’d make the best use of the time and make the best case for funding the CDC. In the heat of the moment, Weiler misspoke on a few things, and I’d like to clarify those.”
Eason went on to explain that while the CDC board of directors would consider resigning (she placed emphasis on the word “consider”), the offer was really made in an attempt to discover if the town council’s reluctance to provide funding was based on personal issues with individual board members. She went on to explain that even if certain members of the board were to resign, CDC bylaws would not allow the town council to appoint any of the replacements.
In an earlier interview Eason expressed her belief that Mayor Ross Aragon held a personal grudge against her, Murri and CDC board member Udgar Parsons for their outspoken opposition to Wal-Mart.
“This offer (to resign) was Mark Weiler’s suggestion,” Parsons added, “and given that he knows the mayor and the town council a lot better than we do, and has been on the CDC longer than the rest of us, we decided to go ahead and let him make our presentation. It is not and was never our intention, to allow the Town Council to appoint new board members, and that is not permitted by the bylaws, anyway. If any healing is needed between the CDC and either of the two governmental funding entities, this could be a great opportunity for that to happen.
“Mark’s statement came from a desire to discover if personality issues were impediments to funding, and if so to address them. Also, we wanted to make a clear statement that for each one of us the commitment to economic development is primary.”
During the discussion that followed Weiler’s presentation at the Nov. 15 work session, town council member Don Volger expressed a similar sentiment. “As far as the CDC goes, I believe that we do need that organization or an organization like that.? I think it fills a gap that we need to fill when we’re looking at economic development, for us and the county, but, looking at the history, my question is whether it should be government-subsidized or should it be funded by the private sector.
“I know the history of this and at some point in time we need to get together with the CDC and the county to discuss the issues, because the county has some of the same issues that we have, and those issues are what prompted us to eliminate the funding this year for the CDC.”
Council member David Schanzenbaker, who was only recently elected to the town council and was not around when these issues arose, asked for clarification.
“Well, essentially it boils down to whether CDC should be government-subsidized or not,” Volger explained. “There was a decision made this last year that the government representation on the CDC would no longer be there. So, based on that decision, the county and the town didn’t put anything initially in the budget to fund the CDC. Ross (Mayor Aragon) and Clifford (County Commissioner Lucero) were serving on that board and they stepped down.? I think we need to discuss, as a whole, why, and whether we want to change that or whether we want to support that and go forward.”?
Volger went on to explain that he already has an opinion of the CDC, with the implication being his opinion was not a favorable one. However, in order to make an informed decision concerning whether or not to approve funding for the CDC, he suggested there would have to be a meeting between the town council, the Archuleta Board of County Commissioners and the entire board of the CDC. Considering the fast-approaching deadline for finalizing the 2013 budget, Volger expressed doubt the issues could be resolved in time to put any money in the line item for the CDC.
Town Clerk April Hessman offered a suggestion. “My thought would be, only because most likely this will all come out of reserves, I don’t think it needs to be in the budget.? We can certainly come back and say, ‘They’re doing the City Market downtown. We want to be a part of that. We want to do a budget amendment and we want to give them this money in support of that.’? Or, ‘We’ve all sat down. We’ve come to an agreement. We want to give them this,’ and do a budget amendment.? We all know that it is coming out of reserves.”
“I think that is the way we should proceed,” Volger agreed. “We are so tight on time and I think we need to proceed with the budget we have — with a zero line item for CDC. However, I really want to sit down as soon as possible with the county and the CDC and see if we can work out these issues and see if we can get together on a plan to move forward.”
“I don’t know all of the politics that are involved,” council member Tracy Bunning added, “and obviously those things need to be discussed and ironed out, but I’m definitely in favor of the redevelopment of the old City Market, and if the CDC is in a position to offer that, I for one, would like to think that we could put those kinds of differences aside, even if what you suggest doesn’t work, and get on board with doing our part to help see that happen.”
“From point A,” Council member Kathie Lattin argued, “I myself have wanted to decrease the CDC funding, because I think that it should hold its own?in the private sector.? But, as with everything else, things change.? There are new projects and there are huge economic benefits for this, if it goes through.”
“In all the research that I’ve done,” Weiler asserted, “there is no community development organization that operates purely on private funding.? There isn’t any.? The La Plata Economic Alliance is the best run organization I’ve ever seen, and yet 55 percent of their revenue comes from City of Durango and La Plata County, and they are a well run machine.
“At the end of the day, if we haven’t earned your confidence, the responsibility for that is ours. That’s what it is. That’s the end of the story, so you pick the room. You pick the time.”
“Can we schedule a work session with the county and the CDC?” Schanzenbaker asked.
“I didn’t want to say anything because I think anything I say will be perceived by you as something negative,” Aragon finally weighed in. “But I am going to say that this is about substance.? We’ve been under pressure for a long time to have the CDC not be funded by the town.? There’s a lot of controversy over that. People have resigned off the CDC because there’s so much controversy.”
Aragon continued to explain that if the CDC is going to ask for $100,000 worth of funding from the town, he wants to know, as the person entrusted with the taxpayers’ money, where those funds are going to go and what they are going to be used for.
In the later interview, Eason was asked to take Aragon’s statements at face value, to assume for a second this is not a personal issue and the real reason the CDC is having trouble acquiring funds from the town and county is because it has not, in fact, done a good job of explaining precisely how the money they are requesting will benefit the taxpaying constituents of the area. How could they add more substance to their argument for funding?
She explained there are confidentiality requirements that forbid naming specific businesses or individuals who have received counseling or advice from the CDC, but she did agree something needs to be done to make the true benefits of the CDC more apparent. What does the CDC offer that the Chamber of Commerce, the Small Business Development Center or the Region 9 Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado do not?
Because of an apparent clerical error, Aragon’s packet did not contain a copy of the CDC’s application, so he did not get a chance to review their budget beforehand. However, according to the proposed budget section of the CDC’s 2013 request for contribution from the town, the two largest line items affirm $75,000 will be spent on the salary for CDC director Rich Lindblad and $18,000 will go towards rent for the CDC’s office. The CDC’s office is located in the Country Center Plaza, which is owned by CDC board member Morgan Murri.
Earlier in the application, the argument is made that funding the CDC is critically important because in Archuleta County the not-employed rate is 19.97 percent, per capita income is 70 percent of the state average, the uninsured rate is 24 percent, the poverty rate is 13 percent, 51 percent of school children qualify for free or reduced lunches, and a livable wage is $10.56 per hour for a single person.
While the CDC’s application offers no justification for spending taxpayer money so that one individual can retain a $75,000 salary, while so many area residents are suffering from the bleak economic situation, Eason did admit that if the county and town decide not to provide funding, the CDC would be forced to eliminate Lindblad’s position and move out of their office.
If that were to occur, business owners in need of counseling would be required to travel to Durango to see Joe Keck from the SBDC or wait for his monthly visit to Pagosa Springs. Ed Morlan from Region 9 is also headquartered outside of Archuleta County.