On a split vote, county offers $500,000 for park

Thursday, July 29, 2004

Supporting park concept, but 'strapped'

After considerable discussion regarding the general state of county finances, and particularly where the money for a new project would come from, the Buena Vista County Board of Supervisors Tuesday in a split 3-2 vote agreed to fund $500,000 toward the Storm Lake Project AWAYSIS destination park plan.

The funding would include $100,000 for signage for driving trails and interpretive kiosks for the first year and $80,000 each year for five years for recreational trails. That amount does not quite hit the mark of what Project AWAYSIS representatives had requested two weeks earlier, $600,000.

In a spirit of compromise between keeping a wary eye on future budget finances and lending a hand to area economic development, the supervisors agreed to the lesser amount.

It appears that both county and city residents will benefit, with the $500,000 contribution by the supervisors going toward drawing rural environs into the destination park concept. County funding for the trails portion of the project could leverage a 20/80 percent match with the greater portion funded by state road use taxes. And, with the county supporting the project financially, chances are bettered for Project AWAYSIS being approved for a multi-million-dollar Vision Iowa grant.

As approved, 75 percent of county funding approved Tuesday would come from the General Basic fund while the remaining 25 percent would come from the Rural Fund. It was the 25/75 formula that tended to generate the most discussion.

"The rural areas are already paying on the General Basic so they're getting hit twice," said Supervisor Dick Vail.

Supervisor Jim Gustafson noted that the General Basic fund was already financially strapped.

"The $100,000 in General Basic is where we're in trouble," Gustafson said. "We're maxed out there."

Auditor Karen Strawn noted that the board had the option of moving capital improvements from the General Fund into other areas of the budget. Gustafson opposed such a move, saying that would mean a tax increase. He cited a $20,000 hit to the county two weeks ago for youth shelter and an additional $8,000 for that line item at Tuesday's meeting.

"We have some realities to deal with in this room due to social needs," Gustafson said. "We have to get our head above water a little bit."

Supervisor Bill Lanphere said the board should seize the opportunity for economic development.

"The door is open to file for some state funding," Lanphere said. "As far as the trails are concerned, that's leverage money. That's economic development. We've got to grasp economic opportunities when they're here."

Board Chairman Herb Crampton said the county's obligation was contingent on Vision Iowa funding. If there is no grant, the county would not be obligated, Crampton said.

Representatives of AWAYSIS said they had already considered the county's financial position before making the $600,000 request.

"We tried to come up with an amount that was acceptable to the county," said Storm Lake City Administrator John Call, noting that a number-one priority was for signage of driving trails along Highway 71. "The other $500,000 there was hopefully going to be matched 80/20."

Storm Lake Chamber of Commerce CEO Gary Lalone said there has been a lot of work done on a regional bike trail that includes Dickinson, Clay, and Sac counties. He said cooperation between Buena Vista County urban and rural interests to possibly join that trail system was "showing the vision and being inclusive so it's not just a Storm Lake position. It's a Buena Vista County position. There's a buzz out there that while we're bringing people in we're taking them out in the county," Lalone said.

"Storm Lake has a good trail on the lake. We need to connect it," said Storm Lake Chamber Managing Director Marilyn Monson.

"The project's fine," said Gustafson. "I have a problem with our budget situation." He cited minimal or no county employee raises over the past few years as one area that he would like to consider a priority for county funding.

Storm Lake Mayor Jon Kruse noted a substantial increase in local option sales taxes. "A project like this has a potential of making it even more," Kruse said. "This is the first big hurdle."

Kruse acknowledged the challenge of budget constraints, but urged the supervisors to consider the long-term impact of their financial commitment to AWAYSIS.

"It's important to budget out more than a year or two with any degree of certainty," Kruse said. "This is probably the most positive I've seen this area ever."

"No one has had a vision of this scope," agreed Supervisor Lorna Burnside.

Supervisors Vail and Gustafson said they would prefer to see other funding sources.

"I think it ought to be some private developer but I guess that door's closed," Vail said.

"I have a problem with the amount and I have a problem where it's coming from," said Gustafson.

Discussion concluded, Supervisors Lanphere, Crampton, and Burnside voted for, while Gustafson and Vail voted against the $500,000 funding.

Burnside clarified that as a gubernatorial appointee to the Vision Iowa Board she would abstain from any voting on that board for the project, a standard procedure for any board member when there could be a question of a conflict of interest.

Call said the Vision Iowa grant application deadline was Aug. 11 and the board would meet in September. He said the grant application would then undergo a 60-day negotiation process.

"We appreciate the confidence and support," Kruse said. "This is a very huge benefit to the entire area. It's going to benefit all of us."

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