Commission crunches numbers for community support grants

Decreasing revenue has caused a lot of belt tightening in the county. With no end in sight, the Humboldt County Board of Commissioners had to make some difficult decisions about this year’s community support grants. 

The commission tabled the topic in November and asked the applicants for some more information. On Monday morning, the commissioners sat down with the list of community support grant applicants and a couple of calculators. Their mission: determine how to divvy up the county’s budgeted amount among the programs.

County Manager Dave Mendiola started the discussion with an explanation of the county’s situation. “We depend upon several revenue sources that come in,” he said, including taxes and some income from mining. The county’s revenue has dropped month over month for almost three years, Mendiola continued. “That’s a big concern, we run a pretty big operation.” The county’s total budget is $30 million per year. 

“We’re asking all departments to cut wherever they can, to look at their budgets intimately, to come up with ways to decrease those costs,” he said. “It’s my feeling that we need to do the same thing with these grants that we do, as well.” 

The County had budgeted $50,000 to distribute through the community support grants. Mendiola suggested paring back the budgeted amount to $35,000 and recommended reduced amounts to award the applicants in order to meet that new goal. “It’s up to you to do whatever you want to do, but I just wanted to give you a starting point,” he said to the commissioners.

Later in the discussion, Commissioner French said, “I’m wondering if this is our opportunity, though, to fire a shot over the bow and say, ‘these are items that maybe you need to be looking long-term at other sources of funding, such as fundraisers, and other places besides tax dollars.’”

Lowry High School (LHS) principal Ray Parks was joined by several Lowry seniors Monday morning to address the board about funding for graduation and the Drug Free Graduation Party this year. For several years, Humboldt County has provided the funds to rent the Events Center for LHS graduation. Lowry used to hold graduation ceremonies at the football field, but the crowd outgrew the space.

The Drug Free Graduation Party was also up for funding. The post-graduation party is held to give graduates a way to celebrate without involving drugs and alcohol. Several commissioners spoke in praise of the program. 

For more information about the discussion of LHS graduation and Drug Free Graduation Party grants, see the accompanying article in this issue.

Notable discussions

One over-arching theme in the discussion was the importance of other funding sources, including other grants and fundraisers. Commissioner Tipton said regarding fundraising events involving auctions, “If you’ve got support for what you’re doing, the money that will come through from those auctions will be amazing, but it takes some work.”

In determining the amount to award applicants, commissioners considered how the program benefited the county through either increased revenue or providing a much-needed service to the community.

Commissioners considered how much money a program received from other funding sources and whether entities like the City of Winnemucca and the Winnemucca Convention and Visitors Association (WCVA) could provide financial assistance.

Silver State Rodeo took a moment of discussion. One commissioner brought up that Silver State Rodeo is a private organization. That gave the board pause.

“But it does bring in that good revenue,” Brissenden said. 

Tipton said, “It does bring a lot of people to town. Not only from the states, but from Canada. There’s always families from Canada coming. It’s a big group. It kind of makes our Fourth of July.”

“I’d hate not to support them; I wouldn’t want to run them off,” Commission Chairman Mike Bell said.

The commission granted Silver State Rodeo $5,000, as that amount was likely going to cover the cost of the fairgrounds. French suggested asking the City about sharing the cost.

Humboldt County Chamber of Commerce received only $1,000 this year, in part because the board wasn’t confident that the money given previously was put to good use. They were also disappointed in the Chamber’s lack of input in preparation for the NACO conference in the fall. 

“We did host the NACO conference, went to the Chamber for some help, or input, and got zero,” Mendiola said. “They finally gave us a few little things at the end, but they had no brochures, they had nothing. And so I was really disappointed, to be honest with you.” He said he was concerned that the Chamber wouldn’t have anything for “potential relocators,” and that he hadn’t seen any benefit from the money contributed last year.

“So the $5,000 went into a black hole,” Tipton said.

“I’m for giving them zero,” Brissenden said.

Someone commented, “it would definitely get the conversation going.”

Tipton said awarding them the recommended rather than the requested amount would get their attention as well. He expressed concern that he didn’t know what the Chamber was doing with the money.

“That’s the problem. We don’t know. And they’ve never really justified it to us well,” Brissenden said. “And I don’t think that’s right.”

Cerri supported the recommended amount. “They’re there to support events coming, businesses coming, whatever. Whether they’re doing it or not, I’m not sure. But I think we can get their attention enough just by trimming them like we did, rather than zero.”

“How about a thousand?” Brissenden countered.

French supported awarding the Chamber $1,000. “I don’t want to give the impression that the cut we make to them is based solely on our budget revenues that are coming in right now. I’d like them to understand that we’re disappointed in the output, and we’re wondering what that money is actually buying for the community.” Dropping the award to $1,000 sets stage for having that conversation, he said.

Regarding Young Life, Brissenden brought up a possible conflict with giving funds to a religious program. Young Life is a Christian program that goes into the community to help kids and teenagers. “They do preach a little,” she said.

Mendiola explained his rationale. “Our entire country is based on God. ‘In God We Trust.’ The government’s job is not to tell somebody where to go to church, or what they should believe. It’s their job to allow everybody to practice their religion. So when we get into this issue of whether we’re giving money to a religious organization, I don’t think there’s’s a complete fallacious argument.

“If we were saying to them, ‘we’re giving them money and all you kids have to go to Young Life and believe what they say,’ of course that’s wrong. But when you’re trying to support organizations in your community that are helping your citizens, it’s not different from any other organization. You’re not telling them how to do it, or that they should go there. We’re just saying it’s a good program and we support it.”

Brissenden said she knew a few of the kids involved in Young Life. “They are following them around, and trying to help out. And it’s a tough one. They have a big challenge on their hands with these kids. But they’re working hard.”

Brissenden threw her support behind the Family Support Center (FSC) as well. “Mental health is a big, big issue and these guys are doing wonderful things.”

Regarding a grant received by the 6th Judicial Court, Carrie Stringham explained in a letter that the money received by the FSC from that grant only goes to drug and alcohol cases, and the Center serves people with “many other needs,” including suicide and terminal illness. Sometimes the FSC has to turn people away because of funding issues.

After this year

Near the beginning of the discussion, the commissioners batted around the possibility of doing away with the community support grant program entirely after this year, considering the state of county revenue. Commissioner Brissenden said she asked Elko County Commissioner Delmo Andreozzi if Elko County provided funding for 501(c)(3) programs. “He said ‘Nope, the county does not give money. It would hurt us real bad, because we’re already hurting right now.’”

Brissenden continued, “If we are asking our department people to take a cut, I think that this might be the last year of doing community grants.” She said she supported the programs, but “it just doesn’t make sense for us to be doing this at this time.” 

Mendiola said if the commissioners want to discontinue the grant program, they should discuss that during their annual retreat next month. 

The money set aside for this year had already been approved in the current budget. 

Commissioner Cerri said he remembered when the communities paid for programs, before the county began the grant program. He wondered if going back to that wasn’t a good idea.

The board also requested that a letter be sent to those receiving community support grants this year informing them about the need to look into other funding methods in the future.