Butler County Times Gazette
  • Kent Bush: Funding a stumbling block for many good new ideas

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  • Sacred cows are great but they don't feed anyone.
    That is, unless, you believe the Hindu god Manu will bless your efforts in keeping cows alive.
    But I really like the taste of a good steak so I never protect sacred cows.
    There is no topic I won't discuss. You can't solve a problem when you stare in the face of a solution and refuse to consider it because feelings are involved.
    Augusta Progress Inc. ran up against such a challenge to tradition Wednesday morning when Ray Jones made a proposal that would join three Augusta entities into one with a single director and staff.
    Currently, Downtown Augusta Inc. – incorporated under the Main Street program in the State of Kansas – employs a person in the position of director as does the Augusta Chamber of Commerce. Augusta Progress Inc. has no employee and is run solely by a board of volunteers.
    Jones' proposal includes getting rid of both director positions and hiring one person and an assistant who would work for all three boards.
    Jones has been open about the fact that he believes he is the right person to take this new position.
    The API board heard the proposal Wednesday morning and discussed some of the aspects of it.
    Most around the table understood and appreciated the argument that unifying the efforts of the three boards would be ideal.
    But there is often a chasm between ideal and real.
    Currently, the two positions require about $50,000 total funding. API has no money budgeted for salaries and no significant source of income. Most money they invest in economic development results in a shrinking bank account.
    The group considered hiring a director or combining efforts with the Chamber of Commerce to house a part-time person who would share duties between the two agencies.
    The Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Augusta Inc. Boards have met in the past to discuss the possibility of uniting those two boards to unify their efforts and become more efficient and effective.
    Because DAI is administered through the state, that was not deemed to be possible at the time.
    Jones told the API board that he spoke with Mary Helmer who told him that the combination would be possible if the Main Street goals are met by the new group.
    Obviously, it is easy to say something "would" be possible and then deny the request when the time comes because of some detail or logistical issue.
    Another concern is that the budgets that the salaries are paid from would likely diminish if the two boards combined. Many members of DAI are also chamber members. So either the combined group would lose dues revenue when people stopped paying dues to both organizations. One way to avoid that drop in revenue is to raise rates for membership.
    Page 2 of 2 - But that increase would not be tolerated very well by businesses who only belong to one group or the other.
    A transition to a director who oversees all three groups and an assistant would require at least a 50 percent increase in the investment for salaries from the groups. So any loss of revenue would be even more difficult to manage.
    El Dorado has had a half-cent sales tax to fund similar activities for 25 years.
    No one knows how Augusta voters would react given the choice.
    This idea is not original or shocking. All three groups have considered at least a partial combination in the past.
    But the same pitfall continues to derail discussions – funding.
    Until a funding source is available, the possibility of pursuing any solution is more of a dream than a plan.
    Kent Bush is the Augusta Gazette Publisher, a columnist and blogger for the GateHouse Media Network. He can be contacted at publisher@augustagazette.com.

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