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  • Last modified 158 days ago (June 13, 2019)

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Fund one and more follow, county learns

Staff writer

Having previously tapped rarely discussed funds brimming with hotel and liquor tax receipts, county commissioners faced the inevitable Monday, hearing from others making additional claims on the same money.

First up was Families and Communities Together, which since 2012 had been distributing revenue from the county’s special alcohol tax through its substance abuse prevention coalition.

Two weeks ago, commissioners unanimously voted to give the fund’s balance of slightly more than $4,000 to a new alcohol and drug treatment agency, Restoration Center of Marion, which had asked for $12,000.

“I want you all to keep in mind that FACT doesn’t get a single penny of that special alcohol tax,” director Ashlee Gann told commissioners Monday. “Basically, we are donating our time to be the fiscal agent of the coalition to manage that fund.”

The coalition reviews proposals from youth groups, schools, law enforcement agencies, and others and decides which to fund.

A three-page listing of 110 projects funded since 2012 was distributed.

“This is all prevention,” Gann said. “One thing I just want to say is that I don’t mind if you all want to spend some on treatment. I think that’s awesome, too. But I don’t think we just need to leave prevention out. If you only focus on treatment, you’re too late.”

Restoration Center, which opened its group treatment center for alcohol and drug abuse in January, is an offshoot of programs in Manhattan, Junction City, and Wichita.

It said May 28 that it needed money from the county because the other centers, which had been paying for startup, planned to cut off funding.

“So what’s the difference in Prairie View and this treatment center?” Gann asked. “I don’t really know, honestly. I have no idea. Both provide treatment.”

Prairie View, with headquarters in Newton and a branch office in Hillsboro, receives general tax money as the county’s officially designated regional mental health center.

“It just seems to me like Restoration would be more comparable to a treatment center like Prairie View,” Gann said. “Maybe they do more, but they should be included in just the general budget, and then the pennies — the special alcohol tax — the coalition could still manage, or at least some of it.

“I don’t think we’re the same. They’re on our coalition. We bought them a Breathalyzer.”

State law requires special alcohol tax revenue to be distributed by a coalition once one has been established, county clerk Tina Spencer said.

Commissioner Randy Dallke asked why the county had to pay Prairie View.

Commissioners decided to have county counselor Brad Jantz investigate legal obligations about use of the special tax revenue.

$1,000 per community

The second claim on rarely mentioned county tax money came from George Thiel, organizer of Ramona’s annual Independence Day celebration, scheduled for July 6 this year.

He had heard how an informal group of Marion merchants two weeks ago had obtained $10,000 from county hotel tax receipts to promote Marion and asked for $1,500 from the same fund to promote Ramona and its celebration.

“There needs to be some sort of procedure for people to apply for this,” Spencer told commissioners, “and for you all to have a set way to know that it’s fair.”

Thiel responded: “Show me the form and I’ll fill it out.”

State law allows for a nine-member tourism board to oversee distribution of hotel tax money, commissioner Dianne Novak said.

But Spencer noted that such a sizeable board wasn’t required and that, in its absence, requests would go directly to commissioners.

About $45,000 remains in the fund, which has been accumulating for several years.

“Right now there’s a lot of money in the fund, but going forward, as it gets allocated out, we need a procedure,” Spencer said.

Commissioners and spectators spent several minutes itemizing a burgeoning number of tourism-related events countywide, most of which do not regularly get county money but all of which commissioners lauded.

“As we play the fair game, I want to play the fair game all the way around. That’s all I’ve got to say,” Dallke said.

Novak said she wanted the money to be “distributed evenly among the communities.” She suggested giving each county community $1,000 this year to share among all its events.

“Where would we be if every community came in for their $1,000,” chairman Kent Becker asked with a chuckle.

“$12,000 right there,” Dallke said.

“But you’re helping everybody in the first year — fair distribution,” Novak replied.

In the end, commissioners agreed — at least for this year. Next year, when the tax is expected to bring in only $6,000 total, new procedures will have to be worked out, they said.

So Thiel, who started his presentation by marveling at how far Ramona had come from the days when he was told, if he moved there, “you’d better bring a gun,” ended up getting $1,000 for Ramona’s celebration.

“It never hurts to ask for more than you actually need,” he said in a hallway afterward.

No procedure was announced for how other communities might claim their $1,000 or for what to do with unincorporated communities such as Aulne or Pilsen that are hosts to tourism-related events.

Last modified June 13, 2019

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