York talks about economic development plans

jbecknell@enquirerherald.comApril 4, 2014 

— In its enduring quest to encourage business development and expand its tax base, York City Councilman John Shiflet believes the city needs more help.

Shiflet, whose council term began in January, said he talked with residents and business owners during his campaign about the need to do more for economic development.

Shiflet has told other council members and City Manager Charles Helms that he believes the city should consider hiring a part-time economic development director.

“There seems to be a lot of interest in having someone with that responsibility, to give it some time,” Shiflet said. “Now of course, when you talk about how to pay for it, that could change people’s opinions.”

Shiflet said responsibilities of the director role could include finding and writing grants, talking to and working with prospective businesses and working on economic development issues with the county staff or other communities.

Shiflet said he doesn’t believe the existing city administration or planning staff has enough time to fully tackle the issue of stimulating development; however, Shiflet said, he believes hiring someone in that role is an investment that would pay off.

“I firmly believe that,” he said; however, “it would be necessary to find someone who has the skills and personality to do that.”

York Mayor Eddie Lee said the city has in the past had staff members who worked on economic development projects, but not for many years.

“It’s important, because we need to focus on economic development and jobs,” Lee said. “It’s about time for us to be thinking about whether we can afford it. We need to see what that person would do and we need to see how much money we can earmark for it.”

Some council members have in the past been reluctant to hire more city employees. After hearing detailed pleas last year about the need for more police officers and firefighters, the council in September voted 4-3 to approve a budget with no tax or fee hikes and no added staff.

After three months of budget meetings in executive session, the council voted unanimously in December to spend about $100,000 for two entry-level public safety positions, including a police officer and firefighter.

Council member Charles Johnson called the two hires “a good start.”

At that time, city officials said they still had a need to hire another police officer to work on York County’s multijurisdictional drug unit.

Helms said the city’s two previous ecomomic development directors, Bill Boyd and Mel Ebersold, did most of their work under two previous city managers.

“If the council wishes for us to hire an economic development director, at budget time I will look into it and see how we can fund it,” he said.

Shiflet said the city has identified several properties around the city that are zoned industrial. “There are light industries that I think could find us a great fit,” he said. “But you have to talk to them.”

He said another issue for an economic development director is how to promote downtown as a unique destination.

“We need someone who spends time promoting that concept and coming up with ideas,” he said.

Jennifer Becknell •  803-329-4077

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