Voters will determine MEDC potential

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Members of Manvel city council authorized a special election to be held on May 9 for the purpose of submitting to qualified city voters a proposition related to the local sales and use tax. The proposition relates to the repeal of the 1/4 cent sales tax that provides revenue for maintenance and repair of municipal streets that was approved by voters in 2011. The repeal would then allow the portion to be returned to the Manvel Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) to promote positive development opportunities for the city.

In 2011 when the measure was approved by voters, the city was challenged with stressed budgets and citizen demands that repairs be made to the many road problems in the city. In response council approved a ballot proposition that would siphon 1/2 of the sales tax dedicated to the MEDC and pledged it instead to the road fund. MEDC board members were generally unsupportive at that time making the argument that the funds could be better invested in longer term benefits to the city. Now that state law requires the allocation be put before voters again, the current MEDC board is unanimous in their urging city council to restore the full funding of 1/2 cent. The decision comes at a critical time for the city as three significant home communities will be delivering many rooftops within the city’s limits and extra-territorial jurisdiction in the coming years. With those rooftops comes the need for increased infrastructure improvements and retail/commercial developments to service those many homes.

In making their case before council, the benefits of the MEDC were explained as maintaining and improving the quality of life for Manvel residents. MEDC last year committed $1.6 million toward the water/sewer infrastructure improvements currently in progress along Hwy 6. That infrastructure is vital to the city’s ability to land a large grocery store or other big box retail establishment. For years prospective commercial developments were turned away due the city’s inability to fund the construction of the needed utility services.

MEDC also funded the installation of water/sewer infrastructure that allowed the ProBuild facility to locate in the city. For many years, when city budgets were strained, sales tax revenue generated by that business were essential to the city’s budgetary needs.

Projects funded through MEDC produce real benefits to tax payers that go well beyond the physical improvements, such as a grocery store, that citizens would enjoy for many years. The tax burden on residents is diminished as the city does not have to fund the project through bonds or debt obligations that usually result in an increase in the local property tax rate. And because MEDC is funded by sales taxes, a significant portion of their projects would be funded by non-citizens. A portion of every sales tax dollar earned in the city will go toward economic development endeavors and as sales tax revenues increase still more improvements to the local economy can be realized. Another benefit to a healthy and adequately funded MEDC is that it can typically act on projects more quickly and with less bureaucracy and administrative requirements than is typical for the city administration.

MEDC members see infrastructure development continuing to be its primary focus in the near term. Currently city council is grappling with paying for a new wastewater treatment plant to service the Lakeland development and possible retail/commercial development along Hwy 6. The city’s current treatment plant is nearing its capacity so while the new water/sewer lines will soon be complete, the reality is that insufficient capacity exists for a prospective business to take advantage of it. Council members generally are loathe to raise taxes for any reason and while MEDC members encourage a proactive approach to impending development, this need well displays the type of improvement a well-funded MEDC would likely participate in.

Staying ahead of development is essential if Manvel wants to avoid some of the challenges its neighboring city to the north is struggling with. A city works from a significant disadvantage when it is constantly having to react to development. Proactive planning allows for greater consideration of decisions that will affect city residents for decades.

As Manvel’s growth continues MEDC should be in position to play a key role in the city’s development. City staff will become increasingly stressed to meet the marketing and administrative needs of prospective development and at some point a full-time position to direct economic development should be considered by council. The position could be funded by MEDC. Alvin, Angleton, Lake Jackson, and Pearland all have paid positions that recruit new businesses and serve as an initial contact to provide information and follow-up. Coordinating local efforts with other incentives through city, county, and/or state programs could lead to a positive business establishment, and easing the administrative demands of a new business coming to or expanding in Manvel can be an important function.

MEDC can be a valuable asset to help meet Manvel’s needs as growth continues and expands. But money is required and a re-instatement of the full 1/2 cent sales tax to MEDC would be significant to the city’s future development. The road department will make up its lost revenue through increased city property tax collections in future years. The road department has done an excellent job on roads in recent years and they are no longer in the neglected condition of four years ago. While some prefer Manvel remain a small country town, evidence and current happenings make clear that development is coming. Council exercised a vision in leading Manvel to a proactive, thoughtful, and planned expansion. Now voters will have their say on May 9 on whether a measured and considered approach is what they want. The alternative is to kick the can down the road and leave it to future councils to scramble to meet the needs of a city’s growth run amok. One need only look north a few miles to see how that bears out.

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