‘Get the money out there’: Lander City Council lifts suspension on economic development funding program

    The Lander City Council voted to end the suspension on the distribution of local economic development funding this week.

    The vote was divided, with two councilmembers voting against lifting the suspension.


    Councilmember Missy White – one of the “no” votes Tuesday – said she wanted the council to spend more time thinking about the kinds of projects they’d like to see funded through the city’s half percent sales tax for economic development before lifting the suspension.


    The resolution ending the suspension provides guidance about the types of projects that should receive local economic development funding, including:
    -capital improvements
    -community improvements
    -façade and signage
    -equipment upgrade
    -business growth and expansion

    The resolution also states that “applications receiving less than a 50 percent score on (the) scoring matrix will not be funded” and notes that “applications requesting $15,000 or less will be advanced one level on (the) scoring matrix” while “applications requesting $50,000 or more will be limited to a maximum award of $50,000 unless the applicant scores 100 percent on the scoring matrix.”

    “I appreciate some of the specificity supplied there,” White said this week. “(But) there are still a number of questions that we as a governing body still have about what kinds of projects are qualified.”

    She listed some of those questions, including:
    -Are applicants eligible for repeat funding?
    -Can city projects be funded?
    -What is the role of public art in space making?
    -Can events be funded?
    -Are nonprofits eligible to be funded?
    -What kinds of financial documents do applicants need to supply?
    -What kind of reporting requirements are in place for successful applicants?
    -Should successful applicants be required to advertise that they received funding?

    Until the council has “more clarity about these things,” White said it wouldn’t be “fair” to ask people to spend time participating in the application process.


    “I can’t see us being in a position yet to resume without providing that clarity,” she said.

    ‘In limbo’

    Councilmember John Larsen said White raised “some very good points (that) we need to go over” – but he also expressed concern about letting the suspension last too long.

    “We need to put some limits on how long this is going to be in limbo,” Larsen said. “I think we owe it to the community and to the taxpayers to utilize these funds to the best of our ability, and to just sit there and hoard them (for) weeks or months or whatever I don’t think is reasonable.”


    Councilmember Melinda Cox said she was comfortable lifting the suspension right away, noting that the city already has an applicant scoring matrix and a citizen committee in place to make funding recommendations.

    “I think we should resume this,” Cox said. “We can’t just not continue the process that was voted on by constituents that said, ‘This is what we want to do.’ … We ought to be regrouped by now. (We’ve) developed this, we’ve gone over it, and we should resume it.”

    Councilmember Julia Stuble agreed, adding that she wasn’t in favor of suspending the funding process in the first place.


    “We do have a functional process,” she said. “We have been successfully funding many small businesses and events. (Let’s) resume the funding.”

    LEDA language

    Stuble did suggest adding language to the resolution Tuesday stating that, although the Lander Economic Development Association has “historically helped facilitate the distribution” of the economic development funds, the Lander Investment for the Future Committee will now provide funding recommendations directly to the Lander City Council, which will “determine the awards.”

    Her amendment, which was approved, reflects the recommendation the council heard earlier in the meeting from LEDA chair Jenna Ackerman.

    “There’s really no reason to have LEDA revisiting all of the grants,” Ackerman said. “Between the LIFT Committee and the council, we can still have a robust grant process.”

    Removing LEDA from the process still doesn’t address the “overarching concerns” from constituents about economic development funding, however, White said, calling it “folly” not to “provide better structure and guidance in response to those concerns.”

    She proposed that the council spend three months crafting some “guardrails” for the LIFT Committee to follow when forming their economic development funding recommendations – but Larsen said three months is “way too long.”

    “If we can pull this off in two weeks, I would be willing to do that, but (not) three months,” he said. “We need (to) get the money out there. … We need to make these decisions.”

    After the council voted to lift the suspension, city treasurer Charri Lara said the next application period for economic development funding is set to open May 1 – though she also noted that the council can direct staff to start accepting applications earlier than that.

    “We have money to give away,” Lara said. “We have had people and events getting hold of us asking (when they can apply).”

    For more information, call the City of Lander at 332-2870.


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