LEMOORE — After much debate, Venture Place road in Lemoore finally has a relatively concrete future.
At its regular meeting Tuesday night, Lemoore City Council discussed a request from Tom Vorhees for financial assistance from the city to construct Venture Place road and other infrastructure in Lemoore’s Industrial Park.
In January 2014, the city of Lemoore sold a lot, located east of Highway 41 and south of Highway 198, to Vorhees. The sale was like a trade with Vorhees, with the original agreement being that in exchange for developing the lot and paying for a road, he would retain ownership of the property and develop the area.
After several extensions, inflations in cost estimates and no work being done, Vorhees finally met with council to ask for help paying for the road. Vorhees estimates it will cost around $1 million to develop the entire road and infrastructure.
City staff came up with three options council could take to help Vorhees:
Provide a general fund loan out of the city’s general fund reserves in an amount up to $400,000. Vorhees would then be required to pay back the loan over a period of four years at $100,000 a year.
Provide a loan using impact fees in an amount up to $400,000. The use of impact fees as a loan source would require that the loan be structured as a reimbursable loan, meaning Vorhees would need to expend the funds and provide invoices and sales receipts to the city. After providing invoices, the finance director would determine the appropriate funds and release them to Vorhees.
Waive building and impact fees up to $400,000 for this project and provide no loan option.
Apart from the three options, Assistant City Manager Michelle Speer said council could also take no action and Vorhees would have until Jan. 13, 2018, — the remainder of his second extension — to construct the road himself or the property would revert back to the ownership of the city’s successor agency.
Vorhees attended the meeting and spoke to council for the first time, telling members that he preferred the first option because it would incentivize him to move forward and allow him to start developing the road right away.
Vorhees said he would like to work with the city and do what’s best for the city, including putting retail and maybe even a car dealership in the area to bring in tax dollars.
In terms of developing the road and lease-ready buildings, Vorhees said he will probably end up investing around $2 million into Venture Place. He admitted, though, that he does not have any commitments from businesses to locate there just yet.
A few of the council members were hesitant about loaning that large of an amount of taxpayer dollars, especially from the city’s tightly budgeted general fund.
Mayor Pro Tem Eddie Neal was particularly apprehensive, saying a loan decision would set a precedent for any business that wants to locate in the city.
“I don’t want to set a precedent of saying ‘no’ to people coming in and wanting to invest in our city,” Councilwoman Holly Blair countered, reminding council that the city has planned many projects that were stalled and didn’t always go as planned.
“We don’t have a lot of investors knocking down our door here and this is a potential to have some retail dollars come to our city,” Blair said, adding she wasn’t opposed to the first loan option because she knows the city will get the money back.
Heather Corder, Lemoore’s financial director, said a $400,000 loan would put the city’s general fund $300,000 in the red.
“Four hundred thousand dollars out of our general fund is big for our budget, it’s huge,” Councilman Jeff Chedester said. “That’s one issue that I have is maybe we’re taking too big of steps. Maybe we should look at waiving the building and impact fees as you go per lot and that would be your incentive, instead of us dishing out $400,000 from our general fund from our taxpayers’ money. Let’s go on some baby steps and start incentivizing you to continue to build.”
Vorhees told council that if the first or second options were chosen, it would put “pressure” on him to get started on the road and move more quickly on getting buildings developed. He also said, however, that he could make the third option work as well.
Council went back and forth for over an hour on the pros and cons of the proposed options and debated whether the city would have a return on the investment.
Chedester finally moved that the city choose the third option to waive building and impact fees up to $400,000 with no loan option and added that the building of a road start within 30 days and be completed within six months.
Chedester, Blair and Mayor Ray Madrigal voted “yes” while Neal and Councilman Dave Brown voted “no,” so the motion passed.