After several failed and tie votes, the Livingston County Board of Commissioners will not be re-upping their contract as currently proposed with the Economic Development Council of Livingston County.

Commissioners voted last year to approve a one-year contract with the EDC for $175,000. The EDC works to provide economic development services for the area and contracts Ann Arbor SPARK to provide business recruitment and retention services in the region. The EDC came before the county’s Finance Committee with a contract for three years at the same annual fee on October 24th; at which time the committee reportedly voted unanimously to recommend approval to the Board of Commissioners. However when the contract came before the board on Monday, some commissioners took issue with it, despite some of the commissioners sitting on the Finance Committee, which previously voted in its favor.

After a handful of residents spoke out against the contract, Commissioner Dave Domas did as well and agreed with the residents that feel there is a lack of transparency in how the contract funds are used. Speaking to representatives from the EDC and SPARK that attended the meeting, Domas said, “I don’t really believe that you make things happen here. I don’t believe that you construct buildings. I don’t believe that you make jobs. I don’t believe that you create a workforce out here…and we have a vibrant economy. We have vibrant people. We have a high degree of educated people in this county. We have wealthy and healthy people in this county and you found that. You didn’t create that.”

Commissioner Bob Bezotte also had some concerns about the contract, stating that he took issue with SPARK for taking credit for a project in Brighton Township that had begun before the municipality contracted the organization. Bezotte stated, “Since 2011 through 2018, we’ve invested over $1.2 million. Many of these communities have invested $2,500 a year, $8,500 a year…This is big taxpayers’ money that we’re supporting EDC and I believe we should support EDC, but I don’t agree with… I think we’re paying too much for this…I don’t see the success from the seven years that we’ve been in this.”

A motion was made to amend the resolution and contract that would make the agreement $175,000 for one year. That vote failed five to three. The board then voted on the original contract at three years, which failed in a tie vote. A motion was then made to reconsider the one-year contract, which also failed in a tie vote. There was some confusion about the amended resolution and what constitutes a failed vote, so the board voted once again to reconsider the one-year contract, which once again failed in a tie vote.

Afterward, SPARK Senior Vice President and Chief of Staff Phil Santer, responded to comments made by community members and commissioners that suggested SPARK focused most of its efforts in Washtenaw County. Santer reminded the audience that the county’s contract would be with the EDC, not SPARK, and that the EDC is locally based. Santer said, “The EDC is a local economic development board of 30 members of local Livingston County stakeholders. It is made up of municipal partners, as well as the private sector, which also invests into the program overall.”

Rebecca Foster, a pro-tem trustee on the Village of Pinckney’s council and a member of the EDC, also disagreed with the board’s decision, sharing an example of how the EDC and SPARK has helped the village. Foster told commissioners, “As you may know, we were recently awarded the status as a Redevelopment Ready Community and we would not have been able to navigate the steps of that process without the assistance from the EDC and SPARK staff. Their well-qualified assistance helped us to streamline processes…execute an economic development plan and many other benchmarks that were required for this qualification.”

A resolution regarding the contract could still return to the Board of Commissioners at a later meeting. (DK)