Houston & Peach

Centerville hires firm to “extend their reach” in bringing new business, easing tax burden

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Officials are forging ahead with plans they hope will “extend their reach” and bring new national retail, restaurant and other commercial business into Centerville’s borders.

But the decision to do so didn’t come without questioning whether or not now is the time to hire an Alabama firm to help them do it.

City council members discussed and finally approved hiring NextSite 360 of Birmingham, Alabama, to help them do research and recruit new business during a work session Tuesday.

During discussions, City Councilman Cameron Andrews said he wanted to make clear the purpose of bringing new business to the city was not just a matter of providing more shopping but was primarily to ease the tax burden of residents.

He said 71 percent of taxes are currently paid by residential property owners with 29 percent paid by businesses and other commercial and industrial concerns.

“I’d like that to be more even,” Andrews said. “Will it be? I don’t know.”

Centerville’s director of marketing and economic development, Kate Hogan, quickly responded to Andrews saying, “I do. If we continue with plans there are great opportunities and Centerville and the (Houston County Galleria) mall can do just that.”

Andrews initially questioned whether the time was right to hire the firm.

Councilman Micheal Evans also said he had concerns but said after talking with Hogan and council members he was more inclined to believe the time was right.

He did, however, have questions related to how a service relationship between Centerville and NextSite 360 would work and who would own data gleaned through research.

But Evans said he was satisfied with answers from Hogan and city attorney Rebecca Tydings about how services and information use would work and about particular wording in the NextSite 60 contract.

Andrews said he was convinced the agreement had the potential to spur economic growth.

In June, Hogan introduced NextSite 360 managing partner Chuck Branch to the council and he spoke to them about the company’s ability to provide key market analytics and win new business.

He told council members his firm had established relationships with national retailers and a track record of compiling and using high-tech geographic and market data to help sell businesses on the value of locating in a community.

He indicated Centerville was well situated to benefit from such services.

However, Branch said what put his company’s services in reach of Centerville and other small Georgia communities was a collaboration it had with Georgia Power Co. aimed at fostering economic development. He said the collaboration meant smaller communities could get what normally would be a $35,000-per-year service at a reduced rate.

Hogan said this week that Centerville would pay $7,000 a year as result of the partnership and would sign a three year contract.

Hogan also said money for the service was already available in the city’s economic development budget.

During discussions, Hogan pointed to success NextSite 360 had bringing new business to Dublin and filling empty retail space there. She said the ability to win large retail companies to Centerville may prove necessary to help secure the future of the Houston County Galleria mall.

Throughout the discussion, Councilmen Randall Wright and Edward Armijo spoke favorably of the plan, as did Mayor John Harley. Harley also spoke highly of Hogan and council members for their “diligent study” of the plan and their lively discussion. Officials overall said they believed the plan would “extend their reach” to national companies much farther than the city could on its own.

The council voted unanimously to enter the contract with NextSite 360.

In other business during the session, council members voted unanimously to give the city’s police department $6,932 to complete the purchase of four new vehicles as the last step in bringing its aging fleet up to date.

Chief of Police Chuck Hadden said the added funds would allow replacement of four eight-year-old Ford Crown Victorias that represented the last vestiges of his aging, problematic fleet.

He said four new, unmarked Ford Police Interceptor sedans will be purchased for use by one captain, two investigators and one code enforcement officer.

The department has been struggling for several years to bring its once-neglected fleet up to date and has purchased numerous vehicles over the past year to do so. Now, Hadden said it will just be a matter of regular maintenance and renewal.

Hadden said total price of the vehicle purchase was just under $107,000. He said the department had $45,000 budgeted and got just over $54,000 in trade in for the old vehicles creating the needed $6,932 in addition.