îThe Augusta Commissioners will determine in the next month whether to continue paying the Augusta Metro Chamber of Commerce to be the county's industrial recruiter.
Augusta Administrator George Kolb said Thursday that he will put the chamber's pending economic development contract up to a vote by commissioners "within the next 30 days."
The chamber's $37,500-per-quarter contract has been on hold since January, which is about the same time Mr. Kolb and state Sen. Charles Walker began discussing the idea of creating a city-run economic development department.
The chamber, which is mostly funded by private-sector members, has historically received the county funds through its contract with the Development Authority of Richmond County of which Mr. Walker is chairman.
On Thursday, the authority approved funding the chamber contingent on the commission's approval of the contract.
The chamber primarily uses the county money to fund a full-time economic developer position. The slot has been vacant since Kevin Shea resigned as the chamber's senior vice president to take a position with the St. Joseph Hospital Foundation earlier this year.
Mr. Shea's former duties have been assumed on an interim basis by Bryan Quinsey, the executive director of the Columbia County Chamber of Commerce.
With or without funding, Augusta Metro Chamber President Jim West said, his organization would continue marketing the county to prospective industry. He said he supports the concept of a city-run economic development department, which he does not believe would overlap with the chamber's marketing efforts.
Mr. West said a city economic development department could focus on tasks such as writing grants, developing enterprise zones, filling vacant retail property and working on blighted areas.
"There is a lot more to economic development than just industrial recruiting," he said.
Mr. Kolb intended to create a city economic development department during the 2002 budget, but budget constraints and a moratorium on new city programs led him to look elsewhere for money, which is why he approached Sen. Walker.
Initial estimates have the proposed three-member city economic development department operating on a $400,000 annual budget.
Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3486 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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