Tired of missing out on state funds, Fairfield considers hiring lobbyist

Fairfield was the only requesting Butler County community to not get any state funding in most recent capital budget.

The city of Fairfield may soon have a lobbying firm to help secure state funding for future projects.

City Council heard from Cincinnati-based DSD Advisors last week about how they can help improve the quality of life for the city.

“We’ve been talking about it for a while,” said City Manager Mark Wendling. “I’ve seen some of our neighboring communities in Butler County, Hamilton County, Warren County use the service very effectively to get some capital infrastructure.”

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Fairfield requested $100,000 to help expand Marsh Park by five acres in the state’s most recent capital budget. Fairfield was the only requesting Butler County community to not get any state funding.

Projects that could use some state, or federal, funding include the Marsh Park development, Harbin Park, and various road and other infrastructure projects. City Council could consider a contract in August, he said.

“I just want to make sure we are really competitive at the state level, and I’m hoping this would help us,” Wendling said.

And if hiring a lobbying firm is not paying dividends, then Wendling said the would discontinue the service.

However, Hamilton Economic Development Director Jody Gunderson said hiring a lobbyist has paid off tenfold.

“I can’t say enough good things about it,” said Gunderson. “I’ve been in economic development for over 20 years, and I’ve always used consultants for these types of things.”

Consultants usually have a rich understanding in their field, and “in some ways, you’re saving yourself a lot of time after getting consultation form your lobbyist or consultant on a direction to go,” he said.

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Gunderson said more and more local governments are utilizing a government relations consultant as city staffs are diminishing, but he does say not all consultants are equal.

“You sit back and look at the value that they provided to determine if it’s a value, and it very well might be you have the wrong consultant,” he said.

But Gunderson does consider a government relations consultant “an extension of your staff, and it’s an extension of your staff that has a lot of open resources.”

Matt Davis, co-founder and president of DSD Advisors, said his job is to be an “expert couch cushion digger” to find money and grants to help projects and improve the quality of life for residents.

Over the past two capital budgets, he said they’ve been able to secure close to $20 million in funds for economic development projects around southwest Ohio, including in Butler, Hamilton and Warren counties. That includes roads, parks, bike paths and “anything you can name that could help improve quality of life for citizens,” Davis said.

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“We find our niche in really being able to play a little part in helping you do your job better,” he said. “What we do and what we sell and what we promise is we’ll set the strategy right and set you up to be in the front of the right people in the right place at the right time.”

Mayor Steve Miller said he likes the idea of someone champion the issues of Fairfield.

“We need to be more active in the state budget,” he said, and upset that Fairfield was shutout of the capital budget process earlier this year. “Everyone else seemed to get something, and we got nothing.”

Davis said the capital budget is only one funding opportunity, which comes around once every couple years.

“There are other opportunities that we’ll keep our eyes on,” he said. “(We’ll) present every opportunity that would be available to you.”

Councilman Tim Abbott, government and community relations director with Duke Energy, had worked with Davis when he worked with the Cincinnati USA Regional Chamber. Abbott called him “very effective” and says “Matt opens up a lot of doors.”

Abbott said with Fairfield being among the top 30 most populous Ohio cities, “We need a bigger voice.”

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