Leesburg plans to hire a downtown business coordinator in the fall, despite several Town Council members' concerns that the position will cost too much in the long run.
"The previous council turned it down. Then why are we supporting it?" council member Robert J. "Bob" Zoldos said Tuesday.
But his was one of only two voices in opposition at the Town Council meeting. Town Manager Robert S. Noe Jr. said during the meeting that he would convert a vacant clerical job into the coordinator's position.
Economic Development Director Betsy Fields told the council during a Monday night work session that a coordinator would enable the department, which currently has two employees, to devote more time to helping merchants draw customers to Leesburg's historic downtown. Fields said this would allow the other current department employee, tourism coordinator Marantha Edwards, to concentrate on town-wide marketing campaigns and events.
"There's so many new initiatives going on downtown, and we don't have the staffing to support them," Fields said. "There's a lot of new energy, and we want to keep the momentum going."
Fields said that the downtown coordinator would act as a liaison between town government and the 500 businesses in and around the historic district. For example, the new employee could help synchronize the store hours of Leesburg's merchants and encourage them to lease unused parking spaces to one another.
Money to hire the coordinator had been requested in the proposed 2005 budget, but the Town Council voted down a proposed tax increase to fund the position. Instead, Fields suggested converting an unfilled $49,000-a-year clerical position into a downtown coordinator, who would earn about $58,000 in salary and benefits. Because the coordinator would not be in place until fall -- at least three months into the fiscal year -- there would be little or no impact on this year's budget, Fields said.
In future years, however, the budget would have to incorporate the increase.
"It's an ongoing pay raise," said " Zoldos, who described the unusual procedure used to create the position as an "end run" around the council's budget vote. "As far as I'm concerned, we told them no, and now we're back at it again."
Council member Kathryn S. "Katie" Hammler said she also opposed the change because she preferred to leave the decision to a new town manager. Noe has announced that he plans to retire at the end of September, and the town is in the midst of selecting his successor.
Jim Sisley, who volunteers with Leesburg Crossroads, a program that aims to revitalize the downtown, told the council that the investment would be in the town's interest. Hiring "someone who is dedicated to that task without other distractions would more than pay for itself," he said.