City Council Agrees to MOU with Warren Worx

April 17, 2024

WARREN, Pa. – Nearly five months after hearing its pitch, Warren City Council agreed to a memorandum of understanding with Warren Worx during its April 15, 2024 meeting.

The City Council voted 5-2 to accept the MOU. Council members John Barbera, Maurice Cashman, Phil Gilbert, Jared Villella, and Mayor Dave Wortman voted in favor, while Danielle Flasher and Wendy McCain voted against.

The agreement paves the way for the city to partner with Warren Worx, including providing $100,000 in funding. Wortman and City Manager Mike Holtz will be part of the Warren Worx Executive Committee (the seats belong to the mayor and city manager regardless of the person in those positions). The remainder of the committee seats will have two county commissioners, the Warren County Visitors Bureau Executive Director, two from the Warren County Chamber of Business and Industry, the Council of Governments President, and one at-large.

“There are so many people, staff, commissions, planning, ad hoc groups, the downtown business community, everybody’s trying to push forward,” Wortman said. “And I think this is an effort to consolidate and unify those efforts and try to make sure that we get the economies of scale, if possible, or put the resources behind it and not do redundant things with the limited resources that we have.”

Flasher made a motion to table the item, which McCain seconded, not because, they said, they disagreed with the initiative, but because council had not held a promised public work session.

“I would like to motion that we table the vote on this particular agenda item,” Flasher said. “In part to further the conversation, that we have a drafted funding agreement and presentation that’s open to the public, but also to conduct a public work session to discuss any concerns to consider not only in our body but in the public at large that we do have a drafted agreement. And doing our diligence beforehand and making sure that every step of the way the public is included in that.”

“I do believe in January, we agreed to hold a public work session, which we have not yet done,” McCain added. “Really, for me, I didn’t have a chance to dialogue on my opinion, and have my opinion count.”

Wortman countered that enough other public sessions had been held that the city hosting one would be redundant.

“We’ve talked about this a lot,” Cashman said. “We thought about it. Now we have a proposal sitting in front of us. We’ve given an opportunity for the public to participate. They’ve done very little of that. From my standpoint, this is the time to act. Not only is it time to act, but it should be unanimous. We should be voting 7-0 to support this action, to send a message not only to Warren Worx but to our community that we want an improvement. And we got to start working on it now. And to split that vote doesn’t send quite the right message.”

McCain said while Warren Worx is an exciting initiative, expediency shouldn’t be the primary objective.

“This is a big deal,” McCain said. “This is why taking the time to do it right is important. And therefore I do support the approval of the MOU and the $100,000 funding for Warren Worx. To quote John Wooden, ‘If you don’t have time to do it, right, when will you have time to do it over?’ Our population has been declining for over 60 years. That’s why we have time to make sure we get it right.

“And after reading the MOU and the presentation provided, it seems we are putting the cart before the horse, the financial need, and the first steps are contracting with a marketing firm to create a Warren County brand and to hire a marketing director. My point is our very first step, should be to identify what the problem is the root cause of the problem, validate how big the problem is, and create a realistic goal.”

Warren County Chamber of Business and Industry President/CEO Jim Decker, who initially pitched Warren Worx to city council in November 2023, said there isn’t a single root problem, there’s many.

“We can spend another year another two years figuring out what the problem is. The problem is not one problem, which is the biggest part of the problem,” Decker said. “It’s not a single item that you can identify and say, ‘Well, if we fix this, then the floodgates of abattoir will open.’ And we’ll have to put a toll booth outside of our county to control the surge of input coming in and people wanting to live here and move their businesses here. It’s not that simple.”

Setting goals, Wortman said, was achieved through creating the city’s Implementable Comprehensive Plan and Warren Worx is the mechanism by which the implementation will be achieved.

“The act of tabling has nothing to do with whether I agree or disagree with the action having more importance,” Flasher said. “I think what it does is provide any and all opportunities for us to solicit public opinion. Whether you decide to show up or not does not mean we should not facilitate that.”

Decker said waiting to ensure everyone in the community is satisfied that they’ve had their say will only lead to stagnation.

“We are never getting to the point where everybody in Warren County feels like they had their opportunity to speak primarily because they haven’t seized the opportunities that had been presented,” Decker said. “So I think we’ve got an opportunity here to move. We’ve got the county commissioners have made a commitment. The Council of Governments voted unanimously to support the initiative. We’ve got tremendous support from the Community Foundation of Warren County. We’ve got the full support of our 250 members chamber, our board of directors executive committee, everybody is is basically sitting here waiting to move.”

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