Rockville Economic Development, Inc., a public-private partnership that helps launch and expand Rockville businesses, is asking the city to take on additional financial responsibility as it leases an unidentified property. Mayor Bridget Newton said she was first informed of the request last Friday. “This isn’t something that they’ve known about, or I’ve known about, for a while," Newton said Monday. "I’d like to see us be as helpful as we can."
REDI Chairman Ray Whalen appeared before the Mayor and Council Monday evening to seek changes to the Memorandum of Understanding the city has with the organization. Whalen said this property transaction will be the first major financial obligation REDI has taken on. REDI currently receives over $500,000 annually from the city, Whalen said. His concern is that REDI would be unable to pay back the cost of the 3-year rent, plus fees, should the city suddenly defund the organization.
Councilmembers Tom Moore and Beryl Feinberg expressed some concern about the request, seeking more time and detail. "For us to just agree in the space of six hours," Moore said, "this is fast." Moore added that the vagueness of just what the city's obligation would be, and the short notice of the issue, was "giving us heartburn up here."
“If you were to go ahead and do this…how much would the city be on the hook for?” Moore asked. City attorney Debra Yerg Daniel also asked for clarification of REDI's definition of partial defunding. Would a $10,000 cut to REDI's budget trigger an obligation for the city regarding the lease, for example? “We’d figure things out. I don’t where the line is," Whelan said. "We’ve never really looked at that from that perspective.”
While Whelan said he could not provide definitive numbers on paper that evening, he assured the council that "we certainly know the ballpark." “This has come to us so late," Feinberg said. "I pause a little bit when it says 'other obligations not included in payroll'…there’s no specificity to it," she added. "Personally, I have no problem with it," Newton said, but she and the council adjourned to Executive Session in the Blue Crab conference room, to obtain legal advice from city counsel. Upon restarting the public session later, Newton informed Whalen that she and the council were not prepared to make a decision on the matter Monday night.