Council compromises on $30,000 to Startup Lab

By Josh Ellerbrock -

LIMA — After a stormy discussion, Lima City Council approved a $30,000 allocation, or half of what was included in the original Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) budget, to Urban Impact Ohio’s Startup Lab — an entrepreneurial program that serves low- to moderate-income individuals.

Four members of the public, including WOCAP CEO Jackie Fox and a business owner interested in Urban Impact Ohio Director Jermaine Harper’s program, spoke in support of the planned allocation, but out of the gate, council quickly made it known that its members were not in agreement about how to dole out taxpayer funds.

Councilor Sam McLean’s motion to shift the $60,000 into the CDBG budget line funding streets and curbs quickly returned heated responses.

Opponents of the Startup Lab explained that Harper’s program was similar to two other free small business programs — the Walter C. Potts Entrepreneur Center and Rhodes State College’s Small Business Development Center — that were created to help those without standard business acumen. McLean said Harper’s program would replicate programs already available in Lima, and that it was important to be careful with how funds are utilized.

Advocates of the Startup Lab argued that both programs are relatively unknown and are not fulfilling their original missions because of low budgets. Instead, Harper’s initiative would be a cohort-class meant to create a network of entrepreneurs among the low to moderate-income community.

Councilor Jamie Dixon, the most outspoken proponent of Harper’s initiative, said these programs are not headed by those who deal with challenges that low- to moderate income people face, and that shifting funds to roads would do a disservice to many of those without transportation.

“We have CEOs sitting around the table making decisions for my ward,” Dixon said. “I know a lot of people in my ward that don’t have a car to drive on the street.”

“We have to do this. We have to invest in our people and community,” Councilor Carla Thompson said. “I like my fellow councilors to understand. … It’s not just white privilege, there’s middle class and upper class privilege. It’s who you know and what you experienced.”

“This program he got is worth more than this $60,000. I went over it. It’s a good written program,” Councilor Derry Glenn said. “It can make a difference in our city, and that’s what we’re all looking at.”

McLean’s motion, however, failed to pass. Councilors Jon Neeper and Rebecca Kreher voted in favor to shift the monies.

“These are taxpayer dollars. We are responsible that they go to the right places,” Kreher said.

An hour and a half into the meeting, the council took a 10 minute recess to discuss a compromise. In order to receive CDBG funds from the federal government, council had to make a decision Monday night.

“No one is going to get everything that they want. Sometimes it gets ugly like this, but we have to get through it,” Council President John Nixon said.

As soon as the council came back together, Nixon motioned to split the $60,000 with $30,000 going to the Startup Lab and the other $30,000 to streets and curb improvements. The motion passed 7-to-1 with Neeper voting against.

“I’m disappointed.” Harper said. “The intent of the 1974 legislation that created the Community Development Block Grant was principled to benefit low- to moderate-income people, and that was in the spirit that we put the proposal together, to replicate a model that’s been done in 75 cities. And I still believe people are worth investing in.”

By Josh Ellerbrock

Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.

Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.

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