Live Oak approves water, business VIP measures
Live Oak City Council has approved measures to use money from its Economic Development Fund for the purchase of water rights and expansion of its business VIP program.
Assistant City Manager Jordan Matney told City Council at its Oct. 30 and Nov. 13 meetings that the city has traditionally spent up to $150,000 annually to obtain and secure water rights for its needs. She said the city decided to double that amount and the resulting water purchase for the coming year.
The development of the Live Oak Town Center, a 112-acre site of shops and businesses with IKEA as its centerpiece, boosted the need for the city to acquire more water rights ahead of the mega-store’s planned February opening.
“Traditionally, we’ve done $150,000 for the last several years,” Matney said. “That has gotten us anywhere for 25-26 acre-feet of water rights. We have decided as a board to double that for the current budget year.”
The $300,000 amount was approved during the budget process and was OK’d by council on its second reading at the Nov. 13 meeting. The funds come from the city’s Economic Development Corp. fund.
Another business initiative that continues to gain favor citywide is the Visual Improvement Program, or VIP, that allots sums of up to $5,000 to businesses and firms to spruce up, replace or repair business fronts around the city.
“We offer up to $5,000 to any business in Live Oak for a project that is approved by the EDC,” Matney said in previous conversations. “It has to improve the exterior of the building. We do signage. We do painting. We do landscaping, just all different types of things.”
A business owner with, for instance, a $3,500 or $4,000 beautification project can apply for that amount to entirely cover the work, well within the $5,000 project limit. A business with a $40,000 or $50,000 project can apply for $5,000 that will go toward the completion of its project.
“In the past, we helped out a business with a $100,000 project, when we gave them just $2,000,” Matney stated. “But that was $2,000 less that the business owner has to come up with on their own.”
When Live Oak launched the VIP program eight years ago with a $30,000 budget and a $2,000 allowance per business applicant, the city had problems convincing business owners “that the money came with no strings attached.”
“When the city shows up at your door and tells you they want to give you money for free, people don’t believe you,” she said. “It took several years for us to really build the program.”
The VIP funding had been budgeted at $70,000, with another $30,000 available “for other economic development initiatives, which have traditionally been used for additional VIP spending, since that program has been so popular,” she told council on Oct. 30. “For transparency purposes, we put the $100,000 lump sum in there this year.”
VIP fund requests are reviewed on a competitive basis. Applicants must be ready to begin construction within 90 days of approval of the award and must plan to complete all improvements within one year of the award date.