To fund or not to fund?
Contributing to the Pagosa Springs Community Development Corporation (CDC) using public funds was the subject of a tense discussion at a Board of County Commissioners work session Monday morning.
While only one of six requests for funding by nonprofits for 2013, the CDC’s request has been the most controversial, concerning as it does the question of whether or not government should continue to support the entity and, if so, in what capacity and to what extent.
In the 2012 budget, a total of $50,000 was paid out to nonprofits — $35,000 to the CDC, $10,000 to Seeds of Learning and $5,000 to the Circles program (the latter funded in January, after the adoption of the 2012 budget).
For the 2013 budget, six nonprofits requested a total of $153,800, broken down as follows: CDC, $50,000; Seeds of Learning, $50,000; Archuleta County Education Center, $40,000; Pagosa Springs Youth Center, $10,000; Area Agency on Aging, $3,000; TARA (Tiffany, Allison, Rosa, Arboles) Community Center, $800.
A request by each nonprofit was made at a Nov. 5 budget hearing.
At that hearing, the CDC requested $50,000 to be used for the organization’s downtown revitalization initiative, the acquisition and remodel of the former City Market building and “crowd funding,” which allows individuals and businesses to donate to specific projects.
At Monday’s work session, Commissioner Steve Wadley began the conversation concerning the CDC by suggesting that a county donation to the organization be set aside for the remodel of the old City Market should the CDC acquire it, saying the project would be good for the community. Wadley suggested an amount of $25,000.
Commissioner Clifford Lucero suggested the funding amount be set aside for economic development projects in general, not solely for the CDC’s project, stating that the money could then be used for a CDC project, or for another entity’s project should any be presented throughout 2013.
“There’s a lot of politics in this one,” Commissioner Michael Whiting said before stating that funding operations for the CDC would mean funding people who are doing projects, and suggested that several nonprofits need funds to repair buildings, as well.
Whiting said the CDC, like Seeds of Learning, was asked during last year’s budget hearings to provide information proving that county contributions were well used, with both organizations accomplishing that.
Because that potential $25,000 would be the only county funds geared towards economic development, Whiting said he believes it would be better to put the funding toward helping the CDC continue its current work — stating that jobs would be more useful than paying for a fraction of a $2 million renovation on what he stated would be a private building.
Whiting suggested the county fund nonprofits the same as in 2012, calling all three, “excellent investments.”
Whiting also suggested that not funding the CDC would be seen as the county turning its back on economic development.
Wadley and Lucero both responded by recalling discussions from last year’s budget hearings in which it was stated that the county would not keep funding the entity every year, with CDC representatives agreeing.
Lucero added he believed the county should stop funding the CDC in 2013.
At that point, Interim County Administrator Todd Starr reminded the commissioners that no decisions could be made at the work session, with the purpose of the session being to allow staff to gain a sense of what the commissioners might want to see in the budget. Starr added that he liked the open conversation.
Lucero suggested that the county stick to $50,000 total for nonprofit donations, with Starr suggesting that the $50,000 could be set aside for nonprofits in the budget and further funding decisions made throughout 2013 — something Lucero did not seem keen on.
“The elephant in the room is the CDC,” Wadley said.
Lucero then suggested a potential funding scheme for the nonprofits — $15,000 to Seeds of Learning, $9,000 to the Ed Center, $800 to TARA, and $25,000 for economic development.
Whiting again voiced his disagreement, stating that he believed the $25,000 should go toward general operating costs, saying, “Show some leadership.”
Whiting continued, saying that the building was in play because the CDC was doing a good job, and that the job should be funded.
Lucero stated that the CDC could come forward with projects for funding, but that he was not OK with contributing operating money to an entity that had been told it would be weaned off public money.
Whiting pointed out that the $25,000 would be a reduction and could be part of a systematic weaning, versus completely cutting off funding.
“This is a statement about our priorities, about our values as leaders,” Whiting said.
Lucero responded that setting aside $25,000 for economic development was showing leadership, and would not close the door on anyone who might need funding for that purpose.
Whiting suggested that project-by-project funding was not a healthy way to expend funds over time, citing a look at strategic planning.
Wadley pointed out to Whiting that, “Last year, you were very concerned about there being an end game,” adding that the county should only invest in local projects with a positive economic impact.
“We got lucky,” Whiting said of funding the CDC for 2012, noting that the organization had no budget or plan when requesting funding for 2012, but that it delivered results when the county took a chance and funded the organization, again calling it a good investment.
Lucero indicated the county needed to look at the larger picture, saying it was not the county’s responsibility to sustain the CDC, then stating that the county would set aside $25,000, before noting that he was only one commissioner.
As the discussion wound down, Sorensen suggested the commissioners make specific decisions later, with Starr noting the commissioners wanted to be able to give assurance to nonprofits receiving funding.
Sorensen suggested sending a letter to nonprofits warning them that 2013 could be the last year the county is able to make any contributions.
Any nonprofit funding approved by the BoCC will be a part of the final 2013 budget, which is slated to be approved on Dec. 11 at 3 p.m.