EDC should support itself

The Island County Economic Development Council (EDC) received some bad news when the county commissioners’ hands were slapped by a state auditor for funding the EDC through the rural county sales tax.

That portion of the sales tax, first directed to Island County in 2003, is earmarked for economic development projects. The county commissioners erroneously thought that the EDC, due to its focus on development, was qualified to receive such funding. In fact, the state wants rural county taxes to be spent on infrastructure, such as sewer lines and roads, rather than efforts to attract more businesses to the community.

The error forced the county to pay back $164,3000 it had given to the EDC over the past three years. The payback came out of the general fund, and the money went into rural county sales tax receipts. The EDC couldn’t be expected to pay back money the county gave them out of the wrong pot.

The payback was painful, as the general fund supports a host of necessary county activities, from planning to policing. Every department head that needs more help with tax statements, assessments, vote counting, nursing or engineering wants more money from the general fund.

The commissioners are just getting into their budgeting mode for 2006, and a number of hearings have been scheduled to listen to pleas from department heads for more funding. This has been tough enough over the past three years without throwing the needs of the EDC into the mix.

Last year, the county gave the EDC approximately $59,000. The commissioners feel obligated to still help support the non-profit agency, but may have trouble keeping payments at the present level. If it comes down to a choice between the EDC and another sheriff’s deputy, it’s pretty clear what the public would want. Various interests will be watching EDC funding very closely.

The Economic Development Council should help out by keeping its 2006 budget request as low as possible and thinking of other ways to fund its own activities. The EDC is an important part of the Island County community, but it should do more to support itself. Especially now that it’s competing with human services for scarce general fund dollars.

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