The Weatherford Economic Development Authority discussed its possible disbandment during a meeting Thursday.
City Manager Jerry Blaisdell sent a letter to the board informing the organization the city council may take action to alter or cancel the contract between WEDA and the city. It is also possible no action will be taken.
“We are going to bring this to council in May and if additional cuts need to be made it could be WEDA if council wants,” Blaisdell said. “It’s a council decision, and this letter was required because it’s a contractional issue.”
The city budget has already been slashed by $2.3 million this year based on an assumed 20 percent decrease in sales tax. The most recent sales tax figures show Weatherford down 3 percent for sales occurring in January. Blaisdell said that is better than the December decrease of 17 percent.
“I never thought I’d be happy to see 3 percent down,” he said.
WEDA is funded quarterly by the city. Executive Director Dennis Clayton said they still have a couple of months’ funding in the bank, and they are currently $12,000 under budget for the year to date.
“We are watching that very carefully,” Clayton said, and described the current situation as “flexible.”
“This is a prudent step so that if the sales tax revenue continues to go down, the city can take the next step,” Clayton said. “We have a full 60 days left to see how sales taxes do.”
The board voted to have Clayton draft a letter to the city outlining their discussion and point out the benefit of having an economic development authority.
“We appreciate the financial crunch the city is in at the moment,” said Ken Davis, a member of the Weatherford Municipal Utility board, outlining points to include in the letter. “As a practical matter, somebody is going to do this work. It’s important that we as a community respond when people have inquiries.”
Board member Tammy Gazzola, president of the Weatherford Chamber of Commerce, said the letter should also point out the importance of recruiting business when the economy is hurting.
During the monthly update, Clayton said he had contact with 10 prospective businesses in the past month, half are new start ups. Board member Kevin Eaton, president of Weatherford College, asked if WEDA was not in existence, would these businesses have been contacted.
Clayton said there are companies seeking out information about Weatherford.
“The interest and desire to be in the Metroplex and in Weatherford makes it easier for economic development,” Clayton said. “We do some stepped-up recruitment in retail and have done recruitment in the past for industrial development.”
Mayor Pro Tem James Hamilton said WEDA acting reactively is “less than what we’d like to see.” He encouraged WEDA to act more proactively.
Clayton said his office receives more prospects than they can currently find locations for and without building spec buildings and seeking out additional land, it would not do any good to actively seek out more companies at this point. He also cited a lack of staff and budget to go beyond their current functions.
“If we don’t have what they are looking for they won’t come here,” he said. “Are we not effective enough?”
Davis said they can always strive to be more effective and reminded the board to change with the times.
“We can’t keep doing what we’ve always done,” Davis said. “We have to do new things in new ways. If the challenge is you can’t recruit people without buildings, then we need to build or stop recruiting.”