The Belton City Council held a special meeting Tuesday night to entertain two motions in regards to recent hot-button issues in the City government.
First, the Councilmen discussed and reviewed the transition to the recently decided in-house economic development program that replaced Belton Corporation for Economic Development (BCED), with whom Belton contracted with for over 20 years.
Jay Leipzig, community planning and development director and now acting head of the economic development program, gave a report on the status of the transition. While unveiling the new budget for the in-house program for the 2014 fiscal year, Leipzig answered questions from the councilmen about the process.
Leipzig stated that Sedalia and Warrensburg, Missouri were both examined, as well as a city in California, while developing and outlining job descriptions for the positions of Belton economic development director and staff assistant.
Ward 2 Councilman Justin Neff asked Leipzig if he felt he had “the skills, experience, and tools necessary to make this a success on behalf of the citizens of Belton.” Leipzig replied with a quick “yes” stating that as he has told his staff, “failure is not an option,” and he will do whatever is necessary to get it done.
Mayor Jeff Davis reported that Leipzig has visited nineteen businesses thus far in Belton and they have all said that no one from the City has come and talked to them.
“I have not seen anybody, besides probably Ron [Trivitt] and I, in a long, long time,” continued Davis.
The Councilmen voted unanimously to approve the transition to an in-house economic development program.
The second motion that was to be voted on was the reconsideration of the final reading of Bill Number 2013-45, the authorization for the Mayor to execute a memo of understanding between the City and the Parks and Recreation Board related to the operation of an off-leash dog park. The original motion failed in a 4-4 tie when Councilmen Neff, Al Hoag, Gary Lathrop, and Tim Savage opposed.
Before the Councilmen discussed the matter amongst themselves, special appearances were made by former Councilman Wayne Grimes and Park Board Director Perry Gough. Grimes spoke against the motion, while Gough supported it.
“I hope you vote no,” said Grimes as he referred to issues he foresaw with insurance and land disputes. The proposed area of land at Markey Park is considered by Grimes to be “prime territory” and the “wrong location” for the dog park.
In support of the park, Gough defended the surveys taken to discover community interest in the idea. Out of nearly 300 people surveyed, over 50% responded that they were “very interested” in having a dog park in Belton. Over 60% responded that they would use the dog park at least monthly. In addition to the survey, Gough cited the relatively low cost that has been budgeted from bond money for the dog park. The amount that the City has to work with is $20,000.
Councilmen Hoag and Everett Loughridge were both absent from the meeting, leaving Councilmen Neff, Lathrop, and Savage as the present members who opposed at the last motion for the Bill. Councilman Neff suggested that the Council discuss the issue before taking a vote.
Neff brought Gough back to the podium to ask questions concerning the community bond issue, as well as the effects the park will have on economic development and Belton’s annual Community Days celebration.
Neff appeared in favor of the motion and stated, “It’s important for the people to know that we listen to them.”
Councilman Lathrop expressed his ideas on the matter, saying that no one is against the dog park, just its location. Lathrop also told Gough that in the back of his mind are the former Park Board budgetary shortcomings. Gough responded by stating that the Park Board now has CPAs who are able to keep their account in order.
Councilman Savage called the location of the dog park “very bad planning.” In his opinion, it was wrong for the Board to start planning for a $20,000 dog park on a property that was unverified for this use by the City, making the Council more heavily involved.
“That’s a whole lot of assuming,” Savage continued.
Before calling for a vote, Mayor Davis added his own thoughts to the matter.
“We don’t want a Council that agrees on everything,” he said. “This is hashing it out and I think this is what the public wants.”
After all of the discussion, the motion was voted on and passed 5-2, with Councilmen Lathrop and Savage opposing.