Sewickley taxpayer-funded payment to Village Green questioned
Some Sewickley Council members are questioning an $80,000 taxpayer-funded payment to a business development group and want an exit strategy for next year.
Leaders of Village Green Partners — the nonprofit group that will receive the money — say in addition to public money, they have used their own money to help start their initiative, and are working to increase private support.
In a 7-0 vote in November, Sewickley Council approved paying $80,000 to Village Green Partners. Leaders for the nonprofit group market the business district through events and other development strategies to entice business owners to move to Sewickley. Council members Stan Ference and Susan Aleshire were not present.
Last month, council approved a contract with Village Green, which prompted some to consider whether taxpayer money should fund the group.
“It's a significant amount of money,” Councilman Tom DeFazio said.
“If we do it again, I think we should try to figure out how we can build some specific goals or objectives in there for them. “It's a lot of taxpayer money.”
Village Green co-founder Jennifer Markus said public money has paid for events in the business district, including Light Up Night, Yuletide in the Village and Sewickley Unleashed, but personal contributions also have helped.
“The two of us have invested $100,000 of our own money to start Village Green, and we have not paid ourselves — in three years — any of that money back,” Markus said. “We've spent every dime the borough has given us on the town, not on ourselves.”
Social media coordinator Alex DeLoia is the group's only paid employee, they said.
Since the inception of Village Green in 2011, Markus and Recker said they have introduced events focused on bringing more shoppers to stores and also are working to fill storefront vacancies.
Councilman Bill Cornman said the borough's investment is a “very reasonable sum” but he wants to see them focus on no longer needing tax dollars.
“They need to be working to try and come up with some revenue on their own besides relying on us all the time,” he said.
Markus said she and Recker are using this year to find additional revenue sources.
“(The $80,000 payment) is allowing us to work this year to diversify our funding and get more stores involved and businesses involved so that we can decrease the borough money,” Markus said. “That is the goal.”
Part of Markus and Recker's plan asks business owners to donate $250 per year to become a “partner” of the group, Markus said.
The group has about 30 partners now with a goal of about 100 partners by the end of the year, she said.
“We're trying to get everybody to participate because it shouldn't just be the borough funding us,” Markus said. “It needs to be the entire town.”
Markus said their efforts have decreased the need for borough employees to act as event planners.
“The borough is spending less of their time on the events,” she said.
Councilman Stan Ference said he questioned the borough's role in the business district development.
“They do an excellent job,” Ference said of Village Green.
“We get a lot of value for the money. My question is whether it's something that government should even be paying for. We stepped up because it needed to be done and nobody else was doing it. But we need an exit strategy.”
Bobby Cherry is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-324-1408 or firstname.lastname@example.org.