By: Bill O’Connell
When candidate Neil Toeppe, who also serves as the Executive Director of the Swanton Chamber of Commerce, ran for the office of Mayor of Swanton, the foundation of his platform centered around economic growth to expand the tax base and improve the quality of Village services without placing an additional tax burden on its residents.
At the second Swanton Village Council meeting of 2020, Mayor Toeppe presented an economic development proposal to the Council that was designed to jump start the process by forming a Swanton Economic Development Commission (EDC).
It was stated in the proposal, “This new Commission would provide input from all aspects of the Swanton business community and be representative of the business community and residents of the Village of Swanton. The members would provide a sounding board, researching and analyzing issues affecting economic development in the Village.”
The EDC’s responsibilities would be to, “Make recommendations on matters to the improvement of sound economic growth and business development. Examine opportunities for fostering an attractive climate for business within the Village with respect to both existing and potential new business establishments.”
“Recommend additional steps and measures to promote economic growth by retaining businesses and attracting new commerce and industry. Cooperate with Village elected officials and staff to realize appropriate goals and objectives relating to sound business practices and better employment opportunities.”
Prior to the meeting, a copy of the proposal was sent to all members of Council and Council President Craig Rose read the proposal to the Council before they began discussions. The initial reaction to Mayor Toeppe’s recommendation among several of the Council members was, essentially, “Swanton doesn’t need this.”
Councilwoman Kathy Kreuz said she was under the impression that the Village and the Chamber were working together on economic development and Councilman Mike Rochelle asked Mr. Toeppe, “Doesn’t the Chamber do that now?”
“The Chamber does not have an economic development arm,” responded Mr. Toeppe. “We answer questions that businesses have but we cannot advise them on ordinances on what they can or cannot do as far as projects within the Village. We don’t have an outreach going out to the general business community. We don’t have the budget and we don’t have the staff (for that).”
Mr. Rose asked what it would cost to fund the EDC and Mr. Toeppe said the five-member commission would be composed of unpaid volunteers. “If there is something that they would think would need funding they would have to be working with the administration to see if there was any budget or how a budget would be established or if a budget could be established,” explained the Mayor.
A large part of the meeting’s debate focused on how to properly manage and help new businesses that want to move into the Village or others that want to expand. However, Mayor Toeppe’s proposal, which would come in the form of an amended ordinance governing all Village commissions, would seek ways of attracting new businesses to Swanton and not waiting until they happen to knock on the Village’s front door.
Mr. Toeppe said the current process is “reactive and not proactive.” Establishing a checklist of local codes and ordinances for new businesses and residents to help them navigate through the process of establishing themselves in town was an example of being proactive suggested by the Mayor.
Councilman Rose countered and said the Village should be working on the growth that is already here and emphasized that there should be better efforts on marketing the businesses that already exist in town. He went on to say the Village could be doing a better job within some of its departments, specifically mentioning the Zoning Department and Swanton Code Enforcement Officer Dennis Brown.
“He doesn’t do his job close to the way I’d like to see him do his job,” commented Mr. Rose. “We have to work on that exclusively. I think that he should go out and introduce himself to anybody that moves in and maybe have that checklist so they know what they are expected to do.”
With respect to marketing, Mr. Rose said some level of funding from the Village would be required. “Part of marketing, part of getting the word out is, obviously, going to require money. I don’t know if word of mouth is going to do that,” he said.
Mr. Toeppe then informed the Council that there are a number of organizations that would be willing to help the Village with marketing for little or no cost including the Fulton County Economic Development Corporation and the Fulton County Community Improvement Corporation.
“Also, the tremendous power in social media in being able to promote the community either through our website, our Facebook page or other entities and social media sites,” he said referring to other low or no cost marketing tools.
Another objection to Mayor Toeppe’s proposal came from Councilman Rochelle who vehemently voiced his opposition and suggested there were other entities within the Village administration that would be better equipped to deal with the issue.
“I don’t like to make commissions to make commissions. I don’t like additional layers of government. I think it’s counterproductive,” he remarked. “If people have questions it’s more of a matter of them being directed to the right folks for the right questions.
Councilman Rose also commented that he did not want the EDC members making decisions for the Village to which Mr. Toeppe explained that the EDC, like the Planning Commission and the Tree Commission, were strictly advisory boards that made recommendations and that all decisions are made by the Village.
It was finally decided to table the issue until the next meeting and give the Council more time to consider the proposal and allow Mayor Toeppe to gather and present more information.
However, during the lengthy discussion, there were no statements or comments in support of any portion of the proposal from any of the six Council members, leaving the approval of the proposal in doubt.
Bill can be reached at email@example.com