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Belton cuts ties with economic development group

Updated: 2013-06-14T22:33:32Z

By BETHANY BASHIOUM

Special to The Star

Belton Mayor Jeff Davis says the city’s decision to cut ties with the Belton Corporation for Economic Development was based on lack of accountability.

“I ran on a campaign to change the way we do business,” Davis said.

During a special City Council meeting June 4, the council killed the city’s 20-year partnership with the independent organization and agreed that the city should create its own economic development department. The vote was 7-1.

Davis said the city was investing $100,000 annually into a partnership that wasn’t yielding any hard metrics in return, and when the city’s contract with the BCED was set to expire June 9, changes were needed.

“We invested $1.4 million over 14 years. Accountability means, ‘What do you get in return?’” Davis said. “In the beginning, we probably got some good things, but as we evolved it changed a great deal.

“It’s kind of like a money pit situation ... By going in-house, it’s a single point-of-contact and for efficiency, it’s a one-stop shop. We’ll have better coordination of the public’s money and being good stewards.”

The BCED’s longtime executive director, Art Ruiz, said that in recent years, the agency was involved with the development of the Belton-Cass County Transportation District and the Town Center shopping area, as well as being involved in the recent expansions at Belton Regional Medical Center, bringing Metropolitan Community College into the city, and advising city leaders on what position to take with the development of the former Richards-Gebaur Air Force Base into becoming the Kansas City Southern Intermodal Center.

Ruiz led the organization for more than 14 years.

“It’s been a great ride,” Ruiz said. “I feel really blessed to have served the community of Belton.”

The new city-run department will be overseen by Community Development Director Jay Leipzig.

One of his first tasks is to develop a website for the new department – another area where Davis said the BCED was failing.

“We haven’t had a webpage for economic development – ever – in 14 years,” Davis said, adding that surrounding communities offer that capability.

“We’re going to bring Belton into the 21st-century tugging and screaming,” he said.

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