Staffing costs put the brakes on economic development program

Jan. 14—Muskogee Redevelopment Authority trustees brushed up against reality after learning the costs of staffing their new economic development program outstripped resources.

MRA trustees — the mayor and eight ward representatives — plan to meet Tuesday during a second special meeting to determine where they might find the additional funds. The amount remained unknown Thursday, but early estimates ranged up to $325,000 for for the staffing and office requests.

That amount would be in addition to the more than $288,000 transferred in December to MRA, the balance of what city councilors appropriated for economic development operations in fiscal year 2022. There are two additional pots within the economic development fund, but use is restricted.

MRA Economic Development Director Leon Davis pitched his proposals for staffing the new economic development program Jan. 7 during a special meeting. The scope and the cost of his proposal surprised trustees — Davis arrived hoping he would get the green light for at least two contract positions on an agenda item that authorized only direction to staff.

Trustees Mayor Marlon Coleman, MRA chairman, steered the discussion away from rushing a decision. He said trustees needed to take the time necessary to gather all the information, "and we're given everything that we need to make this happen."

Davis' proposal includes the addition of six staffed positions to the MRA's economic development program. Two of those positions, he said, would be contractors with highly specialized skill sets.

Davis expressed concerns about delaying authorization to engage those contractors. He said any delay could render those services unavailable saying those services may not be available later.

Davis said Thursday the two positions for which he is recruiting contractors could become permanent as the program evolves. The people in those positions, he said, must possess the skills necessary to "empower individuals" and help them "navigate the system" so they don't fail when they launch businesses.

"This structure is designed to educate and allow citizens to engage at a greater level of participation," Davis said. "This is something that is new, it's something that will evolve, but I've got a good idea about what that's got to be."

While Davis has buy-in for staffing needs, trustees favored deliberation rather than a rushed effort to find funds.

"We have come too far — we wanted to reach some goals, and it's going to cost us some more money — and that's what we are going to have to do," Deputy Mayor Derrick Reed said, making a case for more information and time before making decisions. "We've got Mr. Davis here with a new vision, and we need to find a way to get to that point ..., but we have a lot of work to do."

MRA trustees are scheduled to meet to discuss potential funding options at 9 a.m. Tuesday.