Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sustain Blaine snags interim funding

$20,000 to go to salary, website

Express Staff Writer

Countywide economic development group Sustain Blaine didn't request funding from most public entities for fiscal year 2011—that is, until earlier this week, when it requested and received $20,000 from Blaine County to fund the rest of its fiscal year.

"As I learned long ago, it never hurts to ask," said County Commissioner Tom Bowman, who also serves on the group's board as a nonvoting member.

The group had declined to ask for funding from the county for 2011 after a request from Sun Valley was denied in June. Mayor Wayne Willich said at the time that the group had shown very little progress, and even Bowman said he wasn't confident that funding the group was a good use of taxpayer money.

"They were in their growth stage," Bowman said. "From my seat, I wasn't sure it would be in existence in another year."

But now, things have changed. The group hired former business developer Harry Griffith as executive director in February, developed an action plan outlining goals and strategies for the upcoming year and reduced the amount of turnover in the organization.

Bowman said that when he saw the organization was on more "solid ground," he suggested they come to the county with a request for interim funding.

Evan Lawler, the group's spokesman, said the funding will partly be used to match a $27,500 grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce that pays Griffith's salary.

"Our largest expense is Harry's salary," he said. "Part of what we have to do is fundraising, to keep our doors open and to keep Harry on."

Lawler said the remaining money will pay for website development and other small expenses. Such expenses will include printing and postage for the group's application for certification of Sun Valley as a U.S. Olympic and Paralympic training site for Nordic skiing.

County Commissioner Angenie McCleary said that even though she would have balked at funding the group at the beginning of the year, she voted in favor of the request because of the improvements she saw in the group's cohesion.

"When we didn't spend the $25,000 [for fiscal 2011], it was because we really felt like Sustain Blaine didn't have a plan," she said. "It was, 'We need your money, but we don't know what we're going to do with it."

McCleary said the money came from the county's contingency fund, adding that it had been earmarked for the group in 2010. As the funding was never requested, it was simply rolled over.

Griffith said during a county meeting April 5 that the group plans to become self-sustaining in the future.

Bowman said he has no qualms about supporting the group, because it has made countywide progress with limited funds.

"Of all the economic development organizations, these guys are doing the most," he said.

Katherine Wutz:

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