Washington Co. Commissioners consider revolving loan fund

Panel members also said they wanted to develop more objective systems to award funds to nonprofit organizations

July 19, 2011|By HEATHER KEELS |
  • Washington County Administrator Gregory B. Murray gave a brief overview of the proposed 2010 county budget in this file photo. Murray suggested Tuesday that the county create a revolving loan fund to help new and expanding businesses.
Herald-Mail file photo

Washington County officials are considering creating a revolving loan fund to help new and expanding businesses.

County Administrator Gregory B. Murray suggested the idea Tuesday and at least three county commissioners — Ruth Anne Callaham, William B. McKinley and John F. Barr — said they were interested in exploring it further.

The commissioners also said they wanted to develop more objective systems to award funds to nonprofit organizations and  grants from the county's hotel-motel tax fund.

The revolving loan fund would be "another tool to help investors, or to help small businesses, specifically, continue to thrive, expand, or relocate new businesses in Washington County," Murray said.

For example, if a business needed to provide a local match to qualify for a state grant toward a new building, the county could loan money from the revolving fund for the match, Murray said.

Applications for funds would be evaluated by a review committee and rated based on a priority ranking system, he said.

Money repaid on the loans would go back into the revolving fund, he said.

The source for the initial funds remains to be discussed, Murray said.

Budget and Finance Director Debra S. Murray "will come back with some further information on what funding will be available as we come into our next budget year," Gregory Murray said.

He also suggested that the commissioners discuss their philosophy for deciding which nonprofit organizations to fund in the county budget and how to handle requests for grants from the county's hotel-motel tax fund.

The county regularly budgets contributions to community organizations such as the Washington County Commission on Aging, Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused and the Community Action Council. Those contributions totaled about $1.8 million in this fiscal year.

Counting organizations performing governmental functions — the Humane Society of Washington County, Civil Air Patrol, the Washington County Free Library and fire and rescue appropriations — the county's total nonprofit contributions were $10.9 million.

Callaham suggested developing a data-based decision tree to decide which organizations to fund in the future.

"No one at this table wants to pick up a pencil and begin to line through anybody, because every nonprofit has a good mission that contributes to our community," she said. "That's a given."

On the other hand, the future is likely to bring additional challenges such as costs being shifted from the state to the county level, Callaham said.

"We're not going to raise our property taxes, so money has to come from somewhere," she said.

McKinley said he thought organizations that contribute to education, roads and transportation, or health and safety should be given the highest priority consideration for county funds.

Callaham agreed, but said the county should consider metrics for evaluating an organization's contributions.

"It can't be just us sitting there checking or x-ing," she said.

She suggested a similar approach to awarding hotel-motel tax funds.

The funds, which come from a 6 percent county hotel rental tax, are available to help organizations, agencies and businesses in developing tourism attractions, enhancing economic development and supporting cultural and recreational projects.

Currently, applications for the funds are considered throughout the year on a case-by-case basis, but Murray said the county could institute a once-a-year application and award process, with some funds set aside for unanticipated needs.

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