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Beltrami County Board: County disappoints many non-profits

Beltrami County may seem like the Grinch to many non-profits, but commissioners doled out what funds they had -- spending less than half that of a year ago.

The County Board earlier this month gave $56,500 from timber sales revenues to groups it felt fit the state law's definition for the funds - that causes be involved in tourism, agriculture or industrial development.

Commissioners had $221,199 in requests but only $80,000 in available funds, due to a downturn in logging and cheaper stumpage prices. It had $200,000 to dole out last year.

In going through the list of requests, commissioners bantered back and forth on what constitutes funding under the three-prong definition.

"The Boys & Girls Club doesn't fit tourism-agriculture-industrial development," said County Board Chairman Jim Lucachick. That group had asked for $16,024.

"We need to eliminate those that don't fit," said Commissioner Quentin Fairbanks.

A $30,000 request from the Joint Economic Development Commission was deemed germane to the funding definition, but Commissioner Joe Vene asked to cut the funding in half to $15,000 and ask the city of Bemidji to match the county's contribution.

The city, however, terminated its contracts with the JEDC this year and is not renewing them in its 2010 budget.

"The JEDC obviously is involved in industrial and economic development," Vene said. "However, put it to the city of Bemidji and ask what they are willing to match."

"You're going to wait a long time," said Fairbanks.

The match is voluntary, though, as the county's $15,000 will flow to JEDC regardless of city funding or not. "We also want to encourage development outside the city of Bemidji," Lucachick said.

Commissioner Jim Heltzer argued for a $4,000 request to the Headwaters School of Music and the Arts, saying it fulfills a tourism role by attracting many youth to its summer Suzuki violin camp. Commissioners agreed to fund it at $2,000.

At Lucachick's suggestion, six agencies that were deemed eligible by the state law definition would receive half of what they requested, with remainder of funding going into a reserve, with some exceptions. As a result, $56,500 was awarded and $23,500 put into reserves.

Those funded included $15,000 of a requested $30,000 to the Beltrami County Agriculture Association, $9,000 of a requested $18,000 to the Beltrami County Historical Society, $4,000 of a requested $7,775 to the Blackduck History and Art Center, $9,000 of a requested $26,500 to the city of Blackduck for wayside rest improvements, $15,000 of a requested $30,000 to the JEDC and $2,000 to the Headwaters School of Music and the Arts.

Heltzer was also successful in arguing that the Headwaters Science Center, which is seeking state bonding for a new facility, is also viable as a tourist attraction. Commissioners granted $2,500, or a quarter of its $10,000 request.

Unfunded were Beltrami Humane Society at $9,000, Boys & Girls Club of the Bemidji Area at $16,024, Evergreen House at $25,000, Northern Dental Access Clinic at $25,000 and Ours to Serve House of Hospitality at $20,000.

"This may go away next year," Commissioner Jack Frost said of the County Development Fund, which is projected to have only $44,000 by 2012.