Keene City Council members on Thursday discussed, but took no action on, the possibility of dissolving the city’s economic development boards.
Keene Mayor Gary Heinrich tabled the item because council members Rob Foster, Cheryl Schram and Gwen Beeson did not attend the meeting.
“What we do with those needs really the full council,” he said. “I don’t mind to discuss that here in a little bit, but I would like the majority of our council members to be present before we really start tightening the nuts and bolts on this.”
Keene Director of Finance Cheryl Estes on Monday said the council has been discussing options to better fund street maintenance.
Also known as the Type A Economic Development Board and Type B Keene Business Development Corporation, each board receives a half cent of sales tax which calculates to about $215,000 each year.
Estes suggested the city schedule a workshop so all the boards and city attorneys could be there to answer questions.
“You get valid facts from the attorneys and they could answer any questions that any of the boards or the council had,” she said.
Keene Councilman James Belz said the item has been a hot topic.
“And that’s good, because we’re promoting discussion,” he said. “The thing that concerns me is some of the comments that I’ve heard from the board members, and I won’t name those because it wouldn’t be fair to. There’s comments being made that — and this was not in the regular open meeting — that some of the board members aren’t really familiar with what they can spend, what they can spend it on.”
Belz said there has been a “tremendous lack of communication” between everyone.
“The boards feel like they act independently, and they have, and have left council pretty much just approving — and that’s the way they are set up, I agree with you,” he said. “But, I made the comment to a board member ‘why can’t we spend it on an ambulance?’ My answer was ‘an ambulance is not quality of life.’
“Furthermore, they said ‘I didn’t even know the city of Keene owned an ambulance.’ So, therein lies the fact that there’s a vast misunderstanding of what the city owes, what we need, where this money needs to go.
“And I think those boards told themselves so long that we’re acting independently that they forgot that the citizens are running this.”
Belz said he supports having a workshop to discuss the issue.
“Let’s get some people in here that know,” he said. “Let’s get some people to see where we’re going with this and figure out what to do with this deal. Is this my decision alone? No. You guys that are out here, please tell your neighbors to come in and tell us. Fill out these yellow cards, come up here on the mic and tell us. Because we want to act with what you guys want, right?”
Type B board members Roy Robinson and Nick Chesney attended the meeting.
“I would personally recommend that we have a workshop,” Robinson said. “I’ve heard so much information on what happens — what type A or type B is doing — I think it would be very beneficial to everybody to get the information that is verified out on the table so we’re not guessing anymore.
“I can tell you this, that type A and type B do a great deal of work that’s kind of under the cover. You really never see it. But laying the foundation of things is important, because you can’t build if you don’t have a foundation.”
If it’s the desire of city council to dissolve both type A and B boards, Robinson said it will take a vote of Keene residents during the next election.
“So I think it is really incumbent upon this group that we really get the word out,” he said. “If we have to go door to door, we need to get people to come to our [Community Center] and here the pros and cons. Rather than them coming in and just saying, ‘Well I heard somebody say something negative so I’m going to vote against it.’ Please, let’s do our very best to have informed citizens so we don’t have the blind leading the blind.”
A town hall to discuss this item and other issues was also recommended.
“I have been thinking about this for sometime, having some type of town hall,” Heinrich said. “I would like for the council to come in and each of the council members takes a table away from each other and just let people unload. There needs to be a lot of input in from the city.”
Dates and times for a workshop and town hall have not yet been scheduled.