County Council gives funds to the Economic Development Council

Local businesses will have greater access to the resources and guidance of the Economic Development Council, thanks to a bit of a boost in the agency’s bottom line.

In a divided decision, the County Council agreed on Tuesday to dip into the county’s so-called 2260 Fund, the bulk of which is dedicated to financing public projects that foster economic development, in order to fulfill a request by the EDC for $8,400 in supplemental funding.

With so many businesses struggling to get by, Victoria Compton, executive director of the EDC, said the request might best be viewed as plea for “emergency funding”.

“There’s just so much demand out on the street right now,” Compton said of the number of businesses looking for ways to stay afloat. “People are calling and saying, ‘Help me, I’m about to go under’ or ‘I don’t know if I can make payroll’. One woman called me up in tears; that’s how bad it is.”

County Administrator Pete Rose recommended the council consider the request as part of the 2011 budget. He noted the EDC is in line to receive $50,000 from the 2260 Fund this year, $35,000 of which is earmarked for the Agricultural Resources Committee coordinator and $15,000 for EDC payroll expenses.

Compton said the supplement allows her to work more than 30 hours a week and covers the cost of four separate programs, which she will develop:

• 12 educational workshops for 180 businesses and entrepreneurs.

• An additional seminar on funding available from state and federal sources, such as the USDA.

• Upgrades to Web sites and search engines.

• Re-implemenation of the Islands Certified Local program, with a membership goal of 50 farmers and 25 businesses.

Though sympathetic to the plight of local businesses, Councilman Bob Myhr, Lopez/Shaw, voted against the request, noting that the county is grappling with a financial strain of its own. Council Chairman Richard Fralick, who voted against the request as well, added that funding it lowers the amount available in 2260 Fund and would take place “out of sequence” with the budget and with the 2260 awards process.

Furthermore, Fralick noted, the 2260 review committee received six applications totaling $280,000 in requests, and only $218,000 is available. Those applications will be assessed by the committee later this week and presumably be ready for consideration by the council in two weeks.

Enacted by the state Legislature a decade ago, House Bill 2260 provided rural counties that plan under the Growth Management Act with a .08 percent kickback on locally-generated sales-tax receipts. The bulk of that revenue is earmarked for publicly owned projects that foster economic development and is distributed annually as part of a competitive grant process overseen by the County Council.

The Legislature bumped up the amount counties could retain to .09 percent three years ago, and also amended the legislation to allow the salaries of some public agencies, such as an EDC, to be paid for by those economic development dollars.

Patty Miller, president of the EDC, said giving local businesses a boost will help to build a bigger pot of economic development dollars for the county to distribute in the long run. She added that the more sales a business can generate, the more revenue the county collects in its public-facilities financing fund.

Though it has a plan, Miller said the EDC lacks the resources to help meet the needs of local businesses without that supplement.

“We would have to just say ‘No’,” she said