Following a contentious debate and a split vote late Tuesday afternoon, the Mingo County Commission approved a new economic development program that will benefit each of the county’s five municipalities.
Commissioner Greg “Hootie” Smith presented the proposal which he called “Mingo On the Move.” Under this initiative, Delbarton, Gilbert, Kermit, Matewan and Williamson would be given up to $100,000 from the county's $2.3 million economic development fund. The money would have to be used for new, public economic development, infrastructure or tourism related projects within each of the municipalities.
“I think a good opportunity for us to utilize that money, to leverage it — to double it or potentially triple it, is if we go to each municipality and propose to partner with them on an economic development project in their area,” Smith said. “You would think easily they could each get a grant that would be a 50-50 match which would double it. If they think big, it could be a potential project that could change the cities. I believe it would be a good way for us to revitalize each of the municipalities and create excitement and create potential jobs.”
Smith went on to tell the commission that he had already been in contact with each of the municipalities about the project. He said the project was well-received.
The Delbarton and Matewan town councils already discussed the proposal during their August meetings. The mayor of Kermit also briefly mentioned it to his council in August as well.
Gilbert Mayor Jennifer Miller said that she had been approached about the matter but had decided to wait until it was made official via commission action before spending time and resources working on a project that had not been approved.
Mayors Kessler and Spence (Matewan and Delbarton respectively) said that an example for the program Smith gave them was that Williamson was planning to use the funding for a miniature golf course. However, when asked about it, Williamson Mayor Charles Hatfield said he had not been approached about the proposal.
Hatfield was in attendance at Tuesday’s commission meeting for a different matter and listened to Smith’s presentation.
“I applaud the effort. I just think it should come to the government of the city rather than to a component of the city,” Hatfield told the commission. “As long as we have the guidelines, we will submit proposals. There are all kinds of economic development projects that we could do.”
However, Commissioner Thomas Tayor voiced his concerns with the economic development funds being doled out in incremental amounts. Instead, he would like to see all $2.3 million being used to attract a mid-size business or manufacturer that would offer several hundred jobs as opposed to small projects that would only create minimal jobs each.
“I don’t want to sound negative on this whole project,” Taylor said. “But we’ve got one shot with this $2.3 million because this money is a spinoff of coal severance. We all know the coal market is all but defeated. It is a sad, sad time.
“We need to bring something here that will bring jobs and I’m not talking about two or three jobs and I’m not talking about seasonal jobs,” Taylor continued. “You should get at least a 100 jobs if you spend a half million dollars. My concern is that if you divide this up you are not going to see any economic development from it. I’m not for spending $500,000 to create five jobs. I’m more of a bang for your buck guy.”
He suggested the commission partner with the Mingo County Redevelopment Authority. Both Smith and Commission President Diann Hannah told him the commission had worked with the agency on several projects and that the authority was well aware of the economic development funds at the commission’s disposal.
“We have to look at the whole county,” Hannah said. “We’re in a position now where we have no choice. We are going to have to back up and kick the ball or we are going to be sitting here having grass growing up around us, people leaving and nobody wanting to come in here.”
She said it is hard to get the types of companies Taylor wants to come to Mingo County because of deficiencies in flat land, easy access, schools, broadband, other infrastructure and state incentives..
Emotions over the economic development funds escalated and, at one point, Taylor said “the plan was not well thought-out” and called the proposal “a political move.”
Hannah offered a second to Smith’s motion. Smith and Hannah voted in favor of the Mingo On the Move proposal with Taylor offering the only vote in opposition.