Evart LDFA remains following 2-3 vote


EVART — The Evart Local Development Finance Authority will remain intact, due to a majority vote by Evart City Council members against the entity's dissolution at the Feb. 17 meeting.

The discussion has been ongoing since December, but a motion by council member BJ Foster to dissolve the LDFA was made, with support from council member Gregg Sherman. However, votes against the action from Evart Mayor Eric Schmidt and council members Dan Elliot and Casey Keysor did not allow approval.

"I hated the idea that we weren't moving forward," Foster said about why he initiated the vote, adding he didn't believe it was fair to the community or LDFA members to keep stalling on action. "But I'm fine with the rejection. Now, let's move forward and see what we can do."

LDFA Director Melora Theunick is relieved at the decision.

"I'm very excited for the future and what we can do for Evart," Theunick said. "We need to work together to reinvent the future and be smarter about everything."

Now, she is able to focus on upcoming events including the Easter Egg Drop and filling the industrial properties within the city. Although she always is working toward bringing in business to Evart, she understands how hard it can be to be patient while deals and discussions are in the works with business owners.

"The city, along with every other city, is trying to cover their bases," Theunick said, noting small towns everywhere are panicking to find revenue to keep services from being cut. "Everybody wants and easy button, but nobody knows where to find one."

Foster said he supports what the LDFA can accomplish and recognizes what the members of the entity achieved years ago with a larger budget, but doing the same or more with less money is impossible for anyone.

"I'm all for what they can accomplish, but you can only stretch funding so far before something gives," he added.

Budgetary concerns have been the focus of Evart City Manager Zack Szakacs, who has been stressing a lack of city revenue for months. It also was the main reason behind his desire to dissolve both the LDFA and Downtown Development Authority when he first proposed it to council members in December. The DDA will operate for another two years, as was voted by council at a Jan. 20 meeting.

Depending on what the numbers show in the near future, layoffs of city employees could be a reality, Szakacs said.

"It's scary when you're working with a small amount of revenue and you could be forced to lay off dedicated city employees," he said. "It's a trickle down effect."

As for the vote to reject dissolution of the LDFA, Szakacs is not disappointed, even though he still believes the LDFA has completed its 30-year plan. In addition, he believes the council is buying more time and waiting to see decisions from the state regarding tax increment financing and personal property tax.

"I knew it was going to be a hard fight," he said. "Everybody wants economic development, but I'm concerned we'll have to lay off employees and reduce services to the people."

However, he hopes to protect one of those services. When reviewing responses from a recent city-wide survey, Szakacs noticed the No. 1 service residents would like to keep is the police department. Due to the answers, he is seriously considering pursuing a public safety millage for a future public vote, which may be the only way to save officer positions.

On the positive side of the struggles from the past two months, Foster added, the general issue got residents talking, which he believes will help bring people together and make a step in a positive direction.

"We all have to get behind the same vision and work toward the same goal," he said. "We all just need to move forward and put the past opinions behind us."