Council discusses consulting firm

By Jennifer Woods -

At Wednesday’s Washington Court House City Council meeting, council member Jim Blair requested discussion on a proposed resolution that would essentially renew an agreement between the city and JRG Consulting LLC.

This agreement, if passed, is at a cost of $3,000 per month for 12 months which brings the total to $36,000. The term of this agreement would be from Jan. 1 through Dec. 31.

The purpose of the agreement with the city involves economic development, including drawing in new businesses to the area and industrial park.

Blair asked whether the same company was also contracted with Fayette County and the answer given was that the company is contracted with both the county and city.

Blair then asked, “Does anybody see a conflict with that?”

It was explained throughout back-and-forth conversations that Blair was referencing the idea that if the same company is contracted to both the county and city, two separate entities, for the same type of services, that it could create a conflict of interest. Instead of focusing on enriching the city’s economic development by bringing in a new business, the new business could just as easily be sent to a location outside of the city in the surrounding area.

The consensus of other council members and Washington C.H. City Manager Joe Denen was that this was not a complication. Reasons provided included that the company would not make more money regardless of whether a new business were to locate in the city or the county, that the choice of location was ultimately up to the client looking for a location, and that the company provides other valuable services.

Questions were also raised by Blair in reference to the effectiveness of such companies as JRG and Buxton (a company that provides data analysis to the city) versus cost, especially with having an economic developer. It was explained that those companies help the city’s director of economic development, Chelsie Baker, to perform her job responsibilities.

Baker explained that when submissions are made by the business, proposals are given for locations within the city and county — that not one entity is being chosen over another.

Denen, Baker and a couple of council members mentioned certain projects the company has been helpful about in the past.

Another point brought up by council member Kendra Redd-Hernandez was that if a business looking for a location decided it did not want to locate within Washington C.H., then there is a possibility that business could still be enticed to locate within the county.

Redd-Hernandez explained, “I don’t see it as competition, I see it as them helping us all over. We don’t have control over the mega-site, but if a client wants to come and they decide they want the mega-site, I’m not going to be upset as a city council person because they’re in our county. Ultimately, that benefits us overall.”

Council member Caleb Johnson asked whether or not the city was covered under the county’s contract as the city is part of the county. The answer received was basically that while the city is not technically excluded from the county contract, the county contract includes many areas and the county will get the economic development by default.

Essentially, Johnson then explained that he sees the city’s agreement with the business similar to an incentive, as they are already providing services in the county but are also receiving funding to focus efforts in the city.

“I do also feel the gut reaction that councilman Blair has brought up regarding the competition, but I think it’s just normal to feel that in business situations and dealings like this,” said Johnson. “We are an entity and we are separate from the county, though we are in the county.”

Council member Steve Shiltz and Redd-Hernandez then agreed that both city and county benefit from the services. The consensus was that it is more beneficial for the county and city to work together in healthy competition rather than compete against one another as has been done in the past.

“Since I’ve been on city council,” said council member Dale Lynch, “(I’ve heard), ‘we need to take care of drug problems.’ Well, we’ve hired more police and done all those kind of things. And, ‘we need to do more for economic development.’ So, the fact that we’re spending money for Chelsie and for this organization and for Buxton — I can remember there was a group of people around here when we were talking about Buxton encouraging us to do that. And you get information from these groups — that doesn’t mean that you’re immediately going to get businesses. Those sometimes takes awhile.”

Lynch then spoke about positive economic changes such as the downtown and that he thinks it has paid off and will continue to pay off “for the citizens of Washington Court House.”

Information requested during the meeting was shared with the R-H by Denen. That information explains, “In a report that was just published, Washington Court House ranked very high nationally in terms of net number of business openings in recent years.”

That report, according to the email from Denen, was released on July 31 of last year by the US Census Bureau.

According to the information, Washington C.H. ranked 261st in the country and ninth in Ohio after having 12 business openings in 2015-2016 — “specifically, Washington Court House saw 35 businesses opened and just 23 businesses closed over this period of time.”

All council members except for Blair voted in favor of this agreement and so the resolution was placed on first reading.

Two different types of legislation that council addresses are ordinances and resolutions. The first time legislation is seen and approved by council it is placed on a first reading, the second time on a second reading and the third time on a third reading. Adoption of new legislation can occur once ordinances are placed on the third reading and resolutions are placed on the second reading.

Other resolutions placed on first reading during the meeting, if passed, would reappoint Ron Sockman and Nancy Hammond to the Board of Tax Review for a term ending Dec. 31 of 2021, appoint Terry Feick to both the Tax Incentive Review Committee and the Board of Tax Review, appoint Megan Dhume to the Fayette County Travel and Tourism Board for a term ending Dec. 31 of 2022, and reappoint Susan Wollscheid to the Civil Service Commission for a term ending Dec. 31 of 2022.

One ordinance was placed on second reading during the meeting. If passed, this ordinance would approve a joint economic development agreement between Fayette County and Jefferson Township. Follow the R-H for more information pertaining to this agreement.

A local citizen spoke during the meeting and made a request that the bike paths be cleaned and cleared of brush. The citizen said the current conditions, especially under bridges, can make riding hazardous.

Denen and council members agreed that cleaning the bike paths can be done and will be looked into.

Washington Court House City Council meetings are held on the second and fourth Wednesdays of every month at 7:30 p.m. They are located in the second floor council chambers of the City Administration Building, 105 N. Main Street. The public is welcome to attend and may sign up to speak before the council.

Reach Jennifer Woods at 740-313-0355 or on Twitter @JennMWoods.

By Jennifer Woods