With its reserve funds depleted, the Finney County Economic Development Corp. plans to request its largest budget increase in years from the entities that fund it.

Wednesday morning, the FCEDC board of directors agreed to have staff make the larger budget request for fiscal year 2020, which asks for $50,000 more than the 2019 request from both Finney County and the City of Garden City — totaling $215,000 and $205,000, respectively — $5,000 more, or a total of $30,000, from the City of Holcomb, and $10,000 more, or a total of $25,000 from Garden City Community College. If approved, it would be Holcomb’s first increase in four years and GCCC’s first increase in at least six.

The increases are necessary for the organization to continue working as it has, said FCEDC President and CEO Lona DuVall. Without them, she said, cuts would be likely.

“Quite frankly, at this point this is about the sustenance of this organization. This organization either will continue to exist or it will not continue to exist,” DuVall said at Wednesday's FCEDC meeting.

For years, the FCEDC has operated on funding from its four stakeholders — Finney County, Garden City, Holcomb and GCCC — and reserve funds. When the organization separated from the Garden City Area Chamber of Commerce in 2007, it had about $100,000 in reserves, DuVall said. Over the years, the FCEDC has consistently come in under budget and added funds to its reserves.

Since 2015, the group also has requested and received increased funding in smaller increments from at least one of the four entities, most often Finney County and/or Garden City. The smaller increases have been to offset the shrinking reserve costs, DuVall said.

The FCEDC uses a portion of reserve funds every year and the pot has consistently dwindled, DuVall said. Now, the reserves are gone, and the group needs more money from its four funding entities, which account for nearly all of the FCEDC’s budget, she said.

“(The funding increases) haven’t kept up with inflation in our funding since 2011, let alone have they kept up with successes and the efforts that are required of us to continue those successes at that rate,” DuVall said.

The vast majority of the money goes toward salaries for the FCEDC's four full-time staff members, DuVall said, as well as normal business expenses, like rent, utilities, travel, supplies and promotional materials. She said that in 2018, about 91 percent of the group’s time and resources were devoted to the FCEDC’s main goals: project, community and workforce development and marketing the county to other areas and companies.

DuVall said the majority of staff’s time and the FCEDC's money has been spent on recruiting new industries and businesses and expanding ones already in town, researching and developing solutions for quality of life issues like housing and childcare shortages, training and recruiting employees, preparing young people for local jobs, helping adult learners overcome barriers to employment and marketing the community elsewhere.

The result of that work over the past eight years is evident from the data, said DuVall and board member Bob Kreutzer. Since 2011, when the first of the current staff and board came to the group, the FCEDC has increased the real property valuation of Finney County by more than $126 million and brought more than 4,500 jobs to the county.

Within the same time period, the FCEDC has attracted $330 million in outside capital investment in six large projects and created over $56 million in new valuation through the four that have been completed: the transload site, Dairy Farmers of America plant, Mies Trucking and Ranc House Senior Living Community, according to materials provided to the board.

Other large projects, like the Sports of the World complex and improvements to Garden City Plaza, are underway. Another $6 million in state funds were secured during the transload and DFA projects for transportation improvements.

There are indirect benefits, too, DuVall said, namely creating a business-friendly environment that companies want to seek out on their own. For every dollar invested into the FCEDC, the organization returns about $649 to the community, she said.

“We’ve got to go way beyond being a perceived need and we become a critical need…” FCEDC board member Bob Kreutzer said at the meeting. “It’s going to be a tough ask, and yet by the same token, when we go to those entities and show them the impact over the last eight years, we think we have a great story to tell. Because without the investment that they have put into economic development, we could have been in real trouble in terms of tax valuation.”

Garden City Mayor Dan Fankhauser and Bill Clifford, chair of the Finney County Commission, said the city and county commissions will certainly consider the new budget proposal, as they do every year, but will have to see it in context with the full budgets.

Speaking personally, Fankhauser said he would support it because of what FCEDC’s brings to the city.

“It helps us in the long run,” he said.

Clifford said the FCEDC serves a valuable function in the county, though ideally he would be more in favor of a more stable funding source for the group, like a taxing entity. He and Fankhauser said both the city and county hope to keep a flat mill levy.

GCCC President Ryan Ruda said in an email that the college is establishing budget priorities now and that the request will be considered alongside all other budget requests. Though decisions are weeks away, he said the FCEDC is "a valuable asset and resource" to the county and has "a proven track record of identifying new business, supporting existing business, and insuring the economic future of this community."

"The college has been a funding partner of the FCEDC and will continue to partner while supporting and assisting FCEDC to meet their mission and enhance the economic impact and outlook of Finney County and the region," Ruda said in the email.  

The harder sell may be with Holcomb. In 2018, the Holcomb City Council debated the fairness of the unchanged annual FCEDC fee for nearly 10 months before unanimously approving it. The lengthy decision revolved around the concern that Holcomb’s $25,000 contribution was relatively high compared to Garden City’s, considering both towns’ populations.

Holcomb Mayor Brian Rupp, who would only get a say in the decision if the council reaches a tie, has long argued the amounts should be calculated on a per capita base. If the amount is determined a different way, he said, he is against the city paying it.

“I’m for economic development. I’m just for funding it fairly,” he said.

Ron Schreibvogel, Holcomb City Council member and FCEDC board member, said he is in favor of the city paying the upped amount because of what he perceives the FCEDC has done for the community, such as helping recruit new businesses and workforce presentations at Holcomb High School.

“It does go to Holcomb,” Schreibvogel said about the funds.

 

Contact Amber Friend at afriend@gctelegram.com.