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James City supervisors vote to create regional economic partnership

jojacobs@vagazette.com

James City County Supervisors took the first step toward working with other localities in a regional economic development partnership Tuesday.

The Eastern Virginia Regional Industrial Facility Authority is intended to allow member localities to pool resources to develop, own and operate facilities — which could take the form of commercial, residential, recreational or other uses — to spur economic growth. The authority will be created with the adoption of similar ordinances by the member localities’ governing bodies, according to a county staff memo.

The initial members of the group are expected to be Williamsburg, James City, York, Poquoson, Newport News, Gloucester and Hampton. These localities’ governing bodies are expected to study the proposal and vote to approve relevant ordinances in the near future.

Member localities will sign onto participation agreements for specific authority projects or facilities. Costs associated with a project would be shared only by those localities that agreed to participate, as would revenues, according to the staff memo.

The governing body of a locality in which an authority facility is located may direct all tax revenue collected on the facility be allocated to the authority, and that money would be used for payment of debt service on bonds or other obligations related to it. The member localities can agree to create a revenue sharing arrangement, whether taxes or other income, for any facility owned by the authority, according to the agreement document that creates the authority.

James City, York, Hampton and Newport News have each contributed $2,500 to create the authority. A $150,000 Go Virginia matching grant for the proposed Hampton Roads Unmanned Systems Facility includes creation of the authority as an initial step, James City Economic Development Authority Director Amy Jordan wrote in an email.

Go Virginia is a state grant funding program.

Williamsburg, Gloucester and Poquoson have each contributed $1,250 toward the authority’s formation, Jordan wrote.

The Hampton Roads Unmanned Systems Facility is a proposed drone testing ground that would be built on 192 acres of land off Penniman Road in York. The facility would be a place for businesses to test drones and could be expanded to include an industrial park for those businesses, according to the project’s Go Virginia application. The facility would be the authority’s first project.

The authority would have a board of directors. Each locality would appoint an elected member of its governing body as well as an additional member, who is recommended to be drawn from the locality’s economic development authority.

Supervisors voted unanimously to approve the ordinance. No residents spoke in the public hearing that preceded the vote.

Some supervisors raised concerns about potential recurring costs associated with the authority, such as annual fees or hiring an executive director and staff for the authority, both of which are optional.

Those decisions would have to be voted on by the authority’s board, so there’s a mechanism to avoid those expenses if that is what the county wants to do. There doesn’t appear to be interest among the member localities in pursuing those options, said Todd Lynn of law firm Patten, Wornom, Hatten and Diamonstein. Lynn is an attorney assisting with the creation of the authority.

“None of the localities at this point want a recurring fee,” Lynn said.

Lynn added that the idea would be the localities’ economic development staffs could be used as needed to facilitate projects, making hiring a separate staff unnecessary.

Supervisor Jim Icenhour voiced concern about the requirement that a supervisor be assigned to the authority’s board, saying that the supervisors already have responsibilities in entities beyond the county board.

“We’re involved with a lot of other organizations and it takes a lot of time and effort,” he said.

The authority is likely to meet just twice a year, and alternatives can be selected to fill in for authority board members if need be, County Attorney Adam Kinsman said.

York expects to present an ordinance to its Board of Supervisors for consideration Oct. 16. Williamsburg City Council has the proposal on its agenda Thursday. Newport New City Council members were expected to take a look at the proposal Tuesday and if they approved, the proposal will go onto a regular meeting for formal consideration at a later time.

Poquoson City Council was expected to consider the proposal at a work session Tuesday. Staff has tentatively planned to present the ordinance for formal adoption Oct. 22. The proposal is on the Hampton City Council’s work session agenda Wednesday. The Gloucester Board of Supervisors is expected to formally consider the proposal Nov. 7.

Jacobs can be reached by phone at 757-298-6007.

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