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EDC is a bad investment and county poorer for it

The Economic Development Council of Citrus County simply will not go away. Unlucky March 13 the Board of County Commissioners sat in apparent awe while a succession of speakers extolled their lofty vision of a golden future in which a return on investment of between 4-to-1 and 10-to-1, was variously claimed by the high priests of the EDC.

As I waited for an hour and a half of heady, euphoric glimpses into a halcyon destiny, I was reminded of the past achievements of Citrus County's "old" EDC, whose top managers were vaporized shortly before Nov. 21 last year when the new guys rose, with begging bowl extended, to deprive taxpayers of a paltry $46,000. Distant memories floated back of successes, such as the Brown Schools, a $250,000 handout to Pro-Line Boats and the famous Inverness carwash.

This meeting served as a reminder of a similar event just three years ago when the "old" EDC painted a similar picture against a backdrop of equally enthusiastic guest speakers. Since that time the occupational license fee revenue stream is now some $200,000 poorer, while employment opportunities have remained static. In fact, they have worsened somewhat in line with a downturn in the national economy.

Commissioners Roger Batchelor and Jim Fowler, who have served as delegates to the EDC, had stars in their eyes. Preaching to the converted is an insufficient analogy to describe their obvious delight. At least they were able to see exactly how this new version differed from its near identical predecessor. I can only say I saw the same names, same faces and same ideas. Nothing fresh, nothing truly exciting.

When the time came for public input I read from well-researched notes, which sought to establish that the current contract, between the county and the EDC, is either deficient or not being enforced. I provided a series of specific examples to illustrate each point and I quoted page number and section for reference purposes. I mentioned that various financial reports, budgets and other data specified were strangely absent from the archives of the County Attorney, Budget Office and the Clerk of the Courts.

This EDC review received only scant publicity and I was the only person to speak against the runaway tide of renewed EDC support. It is interesting to reflect that at election time in early November, when the group's stock was trading at an all time low, it was impossible to find an incumbent or candidate commissioner who was not prepared to consign this group to the history file. The difference now is they have a safe seat for a relatively long period, and are facing no difficult questions from voters.

My comments regarding contract irregularities, linked to questions as to the criteria eligible for inclusion in any matching funds request, went against the concept earlier propounded by Chairman Batchelor. He advocated lump-sum annual payments without the bothersome task of the EDC having to explain sources and uses of funds, or any need to link actual results to implied promises. This all sounded like a revolutionary kind of local government use of public funds and not the careful tracking that stops politicians from spending your money in a careless or frivolous manner.

The EDC is promoted as a public/private partnership. A strange partnership, indeed, when one party contributes less than $30,000 annually and the other kicks in around $90,000 with a cavalier attitude as to its application and an inability to measure its effectiveness. This division looks set to take a turn for the worse if Batchelor's ideas are implemented.

It is hardly surprising the EDC raises such a paltry amount from membership dues as only a meager 78 were registered as of November. Note that number is itself padded by county and city government delegates.

I was granted only some five minutes before the chairman cut short my apparently irritating input. In contrast, one might ask why proponents were not even timed and were allocated a full two hours to build their case.

March 13 was a bad day for democracy, unless you happen to belive that a superficial "restructuring," and a relaxation of controls that were never applied anyway, are the way forward for Citrus County.

For those who missed last week's opportunity to participate in a one-sided debate, you will be pleased to learn that from 4 to 8 p.m. April 4 in the Government Center in Lecanto, the EDC will reopen its box of secrets and share with taxpayers a set of ideas that already have the unconditional backing of the majority of county commissioners.

Assuming you don't have an unbreakable prior commitment to watch paint dry, perhaps you will join me there?

_ Chris Lloyd lives in Lecanto. Guest columnists write their own opinions of subjects they choose, which do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.