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home : columnists : columnists August 2, 2014


4/7/2014 2:00:00 AM
Councilman disagrees with recent accounts
By John Frey


Several press releases, editorials, and public comments have been published recently that I believe constitute a "second look". To most, the assortment of subjects might appear to be completely unrelated, but I strongly disagree, and offer the following for further consideration.

The term "synergy" keeps popping up in conversations and various meetings of community groups, as a means to describe the current political environment in Montgomery County. It's an appropriate term. Mayor Barton has proven to be a strong leader for the City. Along with the insight and support of a well-informed City council, he has accumulated a list of big "wins" for Crawfordsville-even reversing some of the negative effects of inherited blunders from previous administrations. Likewise, county government has a core group of hard-working and forward-thinking individuals who take to heart the sustainability of our community. The "synergy" that people speak of, is not simply an accidental result of a co-existence. The very definition of synergy is, "a combined effort"-the key word being "effort." It has taken a concentrated effort from both city and county to open up the lines of communication, to establish a working relationship, and to continue to build on mutual core values, so as to define a vision for our community as a whole. It has taken effort to be mindful of how independent decisions impact the whole, and it has taken effort to systematically break down the operations of our community to recognize challenges and identify areas of improvement. In addition to evaluating the breakdown of available resources and public expenses, these core leaders began to evaluate our "growth organizations." Unlike conventional business or family budgets, government budgets are primarily made up of restricted accounts. For every source of revenue, there is a code associated that dictates how those individual dollars may be spent. The general fund is really the only account that has much flexibility, and while we all like the idea of a property tax cap, it does limit the available resources in that fund to maintain our community. Therefore, it is imperative that responsible leaders make certain that we are always exploring ways to increase revenue while verifying that the community is profoundly benefitting from every dollar spent. That is also where the "growth organizations" (a community-based entity that can positively impact the local economy) become vital to sustaining a community. A defined vision.

Through the combined efforts of core leaders, significant alterations in everyday methods of operations have been initiated. One such adjustment resulted in a complete redesign of Montgomery County Economic Development (MCED). Internal changes were made, to the makeup of the board, committees and Executive Director, which have resulted in a more cohesive and aggressive approach toward a newly defined set of goals. Working committees were tasked with conducting research, visiting benchmark communities, incentivizing entrepreneurship, growing our relationship with Wabash College, exploring commercial agribusiness opportunities, and assessing our local workforce, to name a few. This strategy allowed each situation to be dissected and understood, prior to submitting possible solutions back to the full MCED board for consideration. For example, a committee discovered that there are businesses that wish to startup or expand in our community, but won't act, because we do not possess the quality/skillset of workforce required to support their job specifications. Or, a committee might research the value of using tourism as a tool to expand a population base, by targeting families to persuade to visit our community to experience family-friendly museums, sporting events or nature activities currently available to our residents. This collaboration of effort allows for a more in-depth understanding of our current environment, better information for decision-making, and quicker timelines for obtaining solutions. These strategies will raise our standards for conducting business, and ultimately raise the quality of life for everyone living in Montgomery County. A defined vision.

Another growth sector is tourism. Tourism has largely been overlooked, locally, as a relevant revenue source. Consider these statistics from 2010: travel and tourism in America, generated $1.8 trillion in economic impact, which in turn generated $118 billion in tax revenue for local, state, and federal governments-effectively preventing each household from paying $1,000 more in taxes annually to provide the same level of service. Unfortunately, our district falls dead last in rankings of Indiana's tourism spending and profits-about 50% of neighboring districts. This reality caused city and county leaders to revisit their board appointments, and ask that the role of the Convention and Visitors Commission (CVC) be redefined to take greater responsibility to maximize tourism potential when distributing the revenue generated by the innkeeper tax. For the first time in decades, accountability became a priority. Regrettably, this paradigm shift, that introduced new agreements and mandatory impact measurement, was not well received by the Visitors Bureau-the primary recipient of the innkeeper tax revenue. Publicly revealing that the Bureau had stockpiled a savings of $180,000 innkeeper tax revenues (explicitly intended to promote tourism) goes far in explaining our lagging tourism impact and the discomfort that has likely prompted recent appeals to the media and others. Still, frequent invitations to engage the support and resources of this growth entity will continue to be extended. A defined vision.

Simultaneously, a group consisting of community leaders, who embrace the possibility of developing a community convention/sports/fairgrounds complex, and aggressively soliciting large impact events, was organized and incorporated as Destination Development of Montgomery County (DDMoCo). Already, DDMoCo has reported to the CVC a significant amount of activity toward aggressively researching, enticing and securing new tourism, as well as, engaging with others to enhance existing opportunities: goals that align with our objective to draw visitors to showcase our assets and positively impact our local economy. The timeliness, of these efforts to grow tourism is essential, considering that Oxford Economics just reported that US travel and tourism in 2013 accounted for 9.8% of the total employment (14,120,500 jobs) and constituted 2.7% of total gross domestic product (GDP). Furthermore, Oxford forecasts that number to rise to by 3.5% in 2014, and by 3.7% each year until 2024. The time is right for Montgomery County to climb out of last place. A defined vision.

Understanding the importance of attracting both visitors and permanent bodies to the community, speaks to the importance of tending to the function and overall appearance of our "gateway." Regardless of what constitutes a "gateway," it disappoints me when critics are quick to condemn without performing due diligence. There are many issues-including security and handicap accessibility-that the courthouse project is intended to address, but directly passing out dollars to individuals is not one of them. Wearing nice clothes to an interview will not likely earn you cash, but it could lead to a job that will in-turn provide a paycheck. Our courthouse sits prominently in view of the busiest intersection in town. It represents the quality of our community and we should have it "dressed" for the interview. After all, if the concept of alluring by visual attraction isn't valid, why do storefront displays exist? Laws prohibit me from addressing that "depressing rundown property," on your drive, but just because I'm not allowed to paint my neighbor's front door, does that mean I should not paint my own? Doesn't a concerted effort to bring more resources to our community, ultimately lift us all as a whole? A defined vision.

This leads me to my final point to ponder: the Lincoln Day event. Who gets to determine if circumstances are the result of guarded principles, "childish" behaviors, or mere consequence? I happen to know that there were many elected officials-myself included--out of town at the time of the reported "boycott" of the annual event of the now-splintered Republican Party. To publicly speculate about the intentions of another is a pretty slippery slope. Is this the example of "respect...regardless of philosophical differences" that I should follow? Using that same reasoning, am I to believe that any absent Tea Party candidates were "boycotting" as well? You know what they say about assuming.... I'd prefer to be asked about my intensions and whereabouts. I'd love to tell you about the defined vision.

Clearly, all of these topics (and more) are very much a part of a bigger puzzle that I am proud to be piecing together alongside other proven leaders-individuals who have a track record of fiscal responsibility, growing a business, and enjoying success. I would hope that my friends and neighbors here in Montgomery County will look past the accusations, speculations, and degradations, and instead, find out exactly what each candidate represents. Ask the hard questions: What is your defined vision for this community? Why have you chosen these objectives? Have you researched the topics? What steps will you take to reach those goals? Do you believe that maintaining "status quo" will sustain a community long term? What is your motivation to serve? How much time do you plan to devote...specifically? Is it more important for you to stand for something or oppose everything? What is your strategy for addressing conflicting viewpoints? And lastly, what management skills, business experience, and commitments to success will you be bringing to the table? This is a critical time for Montgomery County. What do we risk if the synergy-the defined vision--is lost and the foundation of those efforts is compromised? The upcoming election will prove pivotal in determining whether or not our community grows and prospers, or regresses and forfeits additional opportunities. Stop relying on speculation and what a candidate says they're not going to do and, instead, find out what they will commit to accomplishing.

Respectfully,

John Frey

Montgomery County Council





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