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It began with a simple motion for an economic development office.
But then, what followed seemed more like a turbulent Congressional debate often seen on C-SPAN.
For almost an hour Monday night, Sept. 23, Lancaster County Council members offered up a boisterous series of motions, amended motions and calls for question, as they hashed out plans to relocate the Lancaster County Economic Development Corp. office.
After months of discussion about where to move the organization, including a failed attempt to construct a new office building at Lancaster Business Park, council had whittled its options down to two choices; moving LCEDC into the existing Agribusiness Center along Charlotte Highway (U.S. 521) or to the Humana offices in downtown Lancaster. The latter idea was discussed during council’s closed session prior to the meeting.
County Administrator Steve Willis said the remaining options were developed once county staff realized there was not enough time to construct a new building along Quality Drive in the business park.
The construction schedule would have been dictated by using funding from Build America Bonds. Those bonds are set to expire Dec. 17 and Willis said the timeframe was now too short.
Looking at possible options, Councilman Brian Carnes urged council to make a final decision about the location.
“My personal opinion is we need to do something for economic development and get it taken care of,” Carnes said.
“Whether its Humana or if we put it in the Agribusiness Center, either one needs to be taken care of.”
Though Councilwoman Charlene McGriff agreed on the urgency, she disagreed with offering the Agribusiness Center as an option, mostly because of its distance from downtown Lancaster.
“I always felt economic development should be in the hub of Lancaster,” McGriff said.
She instead supported moving LCEDC to the Humana building.
“There’s been some concerns about it being near a car wash and a shoe store, but small business is what we do here,” she said.
McGriff suggested using bond money to upfit the Humana building and move LCEDC there as soon as possible.
“When it comes to economic development businesses, they need to see our town. Our courthouse is here, our county building is here and all our other firms are here in Lancaster,” she said. “People should see downtown Lancaster.”
Going on the record
In lieu of constructing a new building, which was his first choice, LCEDC President Keith Tunnell recommended moving his organization into the Agribusiness Center.
Tunnell rejected the idea of moving to the Humana offices, primarily because he felt the bond deadline could not be met to move there.
“I want to go on the record to say we already set aside $350,000 for new offices and we were prepared to raise the remainder. Now because of timing, (a new building) is not possible, so then we should use funds to upfit the Agribusiness Center. It makes sense to have the whole staff in one area,” Tunnell said.
Councilman Jack Estridge quickly jumped to Tunnell’s defense.
“There are three new council members since we voted on those bonds. The main ingredient in the bond was the sheriff’s office and then we had money for economic development. We all voted for it,” Estridge said.
“This council agreed that economic development was one of the most important things,” he said. “But for us to sit here and not have a decent place for him is a shame.”
Estridge then motioned to allow LCEDC to move into the Agribusiness Center.
Despite the motion, there were still questions among the remaining council members.
“I recall last year we talked about Agribusiness and there was a request for $300,000 to soundproof the walls and $75,000 for furniture. Then there was the request this year for the new building, which would cost $767,000 and then we spent $15,000 to tell us it would cost $767,000,” said Councilman Larry Honeycutt. “Now there’s an opportunity for the Humana building. I’ve been in there, it’s a very, very good building.”
Honeycutt told Tunnell he was less worried about the small businesses surrounding the Humana building, and more concerned with how small businesses are allowed to use the Agribusiness Center. He worried businesses were allowed to use the facilities free of charge.
“Why do we need to pay for that?” Honeycutt asked Tunnell.
“That’s what an agribusiness program is for, to support small businesses,” Tunnell said in response. “This has gone on for nine years, looking for offices. We need a professional setting to work from.”
Calling for the question questions
As Honeycutt began to comment, Estridge interjected by calling for the question, a governmental procedure used to end discussion and move directly to a vote on the motion.
But with questions about whether that motion needs to be seconded, council took a 15-minute break to let County Attorney Mike Ey consult Robert’s Rules of Order, a set of parliamentary guidelines widely used by voting bodies throughout the country, including County Council.
Council learned a second was needed to move forward with the call for question. Estridge then asked if he could withdraw the call and instead make a new motion to allow LCEDC to move into the Agribusiness Center.
Before the vote on the new motion, Honeycutt again expressed displeasure with how he felt the Agribusiness Center was being used.
“I have nothing against small businesses, however I do have a problem with people making a profit off using county buildings, county power and we don’t get one red cent,” Honeycutt said. “I thought we were talking about an office, not talking about putting in refrigerators and heaters and stoves in there. I’m talking about a building and offices for LCEDC. Somewhere I’m lost, or everyone else is lost.”
Councilman Brian Carnes disagreed.
“I don’t think we’re giving away any free rent. Once we get it upfitted, then we can charge people for rent,” Carnes said.
Waving his arms and shaking his head, Estridge forcefully supported his newest motion.
“I’m glad the sheriff didn’t have to come debate in public on and on for his building,” Estridge said. “I’m so glad he didn’t have to sit up here and go on and on for two, three years on how to get a building.”
After almost an hour of debate, council then voted 4-3 to use funds to create meeting and office space at the Agribusiness Center for LCEDC, for costs not to exceed $350,000. McGriff, Bundy and Honeycutt dissented.
Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at (803) 416-8416