Easton officials say the decision to have the town’s economic development funds funnel through one organization has been in process for months.
For years, the town has provided funds to both the Easton Economic Development Corporation (EEDC) and Discover Easton/Easton Business Alliance. Easton’s funding for economic development comes from the accommodations tax paid by guests at hotels and similar businesses. Accommodations tax revenue must be spent on economic development or tourism.
Easton Mayor Robert C. Willey sent a letter Sept. 28 to the board of Discover Easton informing the nonprofit organization that economic development funds would flow through the EEDC.
Willey said Tuesday that the town was not cutting funds to Discover Easton, but funding for any projects for Discover Easton or the EEDC would be approved on a case-by-case basis.
The mayor noted that the town’s Fiscal Year 2020-2021 budget, approved in May, included a line item for economic development funding without designating funds specifically for either organization.
The town allocated $480,750 for economic development for this fiscal year, which began July 1.
“It was talked about for years that we would fund economic development from one particular account,” Willey said Tuesday. “That was put into place this current fiscal year where economic development is listed as one line item; it’s not for EEDC, it’s not EBA (Discover Easton), it’s economic development and that’s how it’s been done this year.
“It was also decided effective Sept. 30 or Oct. 1 — same days really — that we would no longer fund both as separate entities but everything would be funneled through one account and that would be monitored by EEDC,” the mayor said. “The funding wasn’t cut off, it was put into one account and then to get access to that money we had to have the plans for it and know what it was going to be used for.”
“When the uproar started that we had cut off funding, we really didn’t cut off funding, it’s all still there in the account but now we’re requiring more scrutiny over how that’s being used and to make sure we have the proper records to back it up and then the financial records to show how it was being spent,” Willey said.
The mayor said the budget is being monitored by two people from EEDC and two from Discover Easton. Requests for funds for a particular project would be sent to Town Manager Don Richardson, who would approve the funds.
“We didn’t fire anybody, … nobody lost their job, the funding wasn’t taken away, it was all brought back into one account and the process for how that account was being accessed was put into place,” Willey said.
He said the town was looking for greater cooperation and communication between the two organizations and also wanted more say on how the money was being spent.
“(W)e expect that in the long run that the business community will work better. Not that it wasn’t working well in the past but this way everybody gets a chance to work with everybody,” Willey said. “We’ll see what’s happening and between the funding and the communication with the council it’s got to be improvements. And we think there’s some synergies to be gained with both of them working together on various projects.
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