Friday, May 9, 2014

Nonprofits make funding requests to county

Diverse groups provide services to Blaine residents

Express Staff Writer

Top: Kim Coonis; bottom: Harry Griffith

    Twenty nonprofit organizations and outside agencies are asking for a total of $536,000 from Blaine County taxpayers for fiscal year 2015.
    As the county begins its summer-long budgeting process, 18 of those groups made pitches to the county commissioners on Monday and Wednesday. In dollar amounts, the requests were led by Mountain Rides Transportation Authority and the University of Idaho Extension System, both of which are asking for about $110,000.
    The commissioners will discuss the requests and make decisions on them at later meetings. Several questions from commissioners indicated an interest in ensuring that the money will be used to further county objectives.
    Some of the major requests are as follows:

Mountain Rides
    On Monday, Mountain Rides Executive Director Jason Miller said Blaine County’s contribution to the organization would be only a small part of its anticipated fiscal 2015 budget of $2.53 million. The bus service receives most of its local funding from the cities of Ketchum and Sun Valley. Miller said the organization is requesting $561,000 from Ketchum for next year and $255,000 from Sun Valley, as well as $179,000 from Sun Valley Co.
    For fiscal 2014, Blaine County gave Mountain Rides $108,000 plus a $20,000 discount on its purchase of a county-owned parcel in Bellevue to be used for a South County Transit Center.
    Miller said the bus service saves energy and reduces pollution and congestion. He said the Valley Route, which runs from Bellevue to Ketchum and Sun Valley, serves 17 riders per hour—a high count for a rural line.
    Miller said that despite a drop in skier counts, Mountain Rides experienced a 24 percent increase in ridership this winter.

University of Idaho Extension System
    The office in Hailey provides information on best growing practices to farmers and landscapers as well as 4-H education to 80 percent of Blaine County school students. Extension Educator Lauren Hunter told the commissioners Wednesday that those efforts help local agricultural producers be competitive and to conserve soil and water.
    Hunter said that this winter of 2014, her presentations at four extension schools in eastern Idaho provided 332 producers with information on adoption of cover crops, which are planted during the off-season. She said the crops minimize soil loss from wind, provide an organic nitrogen source, enhance soil organic matter and scavenge soil nutrients, which helps prevent nutrient leaching to water sources.  

Blaine County Housing Authority
    The Housing Authority’s mission is to advocate and plan for affordable housing for low- to moderate-income residents. It qualifies applicants for subsidized community housing and maintains an applicant database of people eligible to rent or buy those homes. It also develops the criteria by which community housing is developed and priced.
    For fiscal 2015, the organization is requesting $75,000 from the county—$5,000 more than it received for fiscal 2014. Agency Executive Director David Patrie said the increase would enable it to hire a part-time bilingual staff person to help with administrative tasks. Board member Suzanne Miller said the recent loss of a bilingual intern left a “huge gap” in the Housing Authority’s ability to serve its clients.
    The agency’s total budget is $225,550.
    Patrie said that in 2013, the agency placed 22 individuals or families in housing.
    He said part of his job is to inform officials who distribute state housing funds that even though Blaine County has high incomes on average, the need for subsidized housing here is as great or greater than in other counties, due to the high cost of housing relative to local wages.

Senior Connection
    The Senior Connection in Hailey provides care and education and recreation programs for older people. It is requesting $60,000 from the county for fiscal 2015, $5,000 more than what it received last year but equal to the amount it requested.
    On Monday, Executive Director Kimberly Coonis said the organization had hoped to be financially self-sufficient by this year, but was set back by a decrease in the portion of its budget covered by private pay and an increase in the portion funded by Medicaid payments, which don’t cover costs. Coonis said the private-pay part of its budget had dropped from about 68 percent last year to 41 percent this year.
    “It happened so fast that we were caught completely off guard,” Coonis said. “I apologize for even coming back—my hope was that we wouldn’t have to.”
    She said in an interview that only 9 percent of the organization’s $1.2 million budget is covered by public funding, from federal, state and local sources.
    Coonis told the commissioners that demand for the Senior Connection’s services is rising. She said the Senior Connection helps Blaine County seniors remain in the area and to stay engaged in the community.
    “You guys do a great job,” Commissioner Jacob Greenberg said.

Sun Valley Economic Development
    Formerly called Sustain Blaine, Sun Valley Economic Development works to promote sustainable economic growth in the area.
    On Wednesday, Executive Director Harry Griffith told the commissioners that the organization hopes to develop $100 million in new business in 10 years—an amount equal to 10 percent of Blaine County’s estimated $1 billion economy.
    “A lot of the stuff that we’re doing takes lead time,” he said. “It takes two years or three years or four years.”
    The organization is requesting $25,000 from the county—equal to its fiscal 2014 request but $5,000 less than it received.
    Sun Valley Economic Development has created a mentors program under which local people with business and legal expertise provide free advice to local entrepreneurs. Griffith said about 20 new businesses are signed up.
    The organization is also working with College of Southern Idaho to develop a cooking school to be called Culinarium Sun Valley.
    “CSI is committed to this, subject to some funding from the community,” Griffith said. “I think this is a project that could move out of the blocks in the next year.”

NAMI Wood River Valley
    The local chapter of the National Association on Mental Illness is asking for $23,000—its first-ever funding request from the county.
    Administrative Assistant Carla Young said a three-year $25,000 grant from the Heart of Gold Fund in the Idaho Community Foundation expires this year, and the organization needs to fill that gap in its anticipated $92,000 fiscal 2015 budget.
    Vice President Tom Hanson said the organization is also seeing increased demand for its services, which include crisis intervention training for law-enforcement officers and other first responders. He said the training helps officers learn how to de-escalate crises, resulting in fewer officer injuries and less incarceration.
    “I’ve been expecting NAMI to come to Blaine County and ask for money because the state has fallen behind in its care of those who have mental illness,” Commissioner Larry Schoen said.

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