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County weighs granting policy

Levi Berends, of Maynard. Minn., gets tossed off a bull at the 2017 Great Northern Classic Rodeo in Superior on Sunday Sept. 3. Berends won the event. Jed Carlson /

Fiscal realities are making it harder for Douglas County to support nonprofit organizations that promote economic growth and tourism, preserve history, and provide health and human services in Douglas County.

With restrictions on tax levies, declining state revenue and further reliance on the county's revenue-generating opportunities to make the budget work, the county is looking to develop a policy that will guide how and when Douglas County supports organizations that support the community.

Such organizations include those that provide aid to victims of domestic violence and help people with disabilities live independently, provide the county's share for cooperation agreements with municipalities, provide health-related services and contribute to the quality of life in Douglas County.

"We are just down to a bare bones operating budget," said Anne Doucette, interim County Administrator. "We just down to where we can cover operations."

Discretionary funds to support such nonprofit organizations are sometimes unknown until after the first of the year, Doucette said, recommending the county develop a policy to determine how to support the various nonprofits the county currently supports.

Currently, the county's Land and Development Committee uses a fund created from the sale of county-owned land to provide funding to the animal shelter, Douglas County Historical Society, Dragon Boat Festival, Lucius Woods Performing Arts Center, Head of the Lakes fairground utilities, 4-H, Development Association, Travel Superior (the county's visitors and travel bureau) and special projects. Funding for the historical society, Lucius Woods, the Development Association and Travel Superior have been on the decline for years as land sales in the county have fallen.

The Health and Human Services Department allocates $25,000 for health care services, and the Forestry Department allocates funding for Northwest Regional Planning Commission, Tri-County Recreational Corridor and Wisconsin Conservation Congress.

For the last two years, the County Board has determined funding levels for the Center Against Domestic and Sexual Abuse and Superior Vocations Center, which helps people with disabilities gain skills to live independently.

Doucette said it's up to the County to determine whether the funding for nonprofits should continue in the budget or if criteria should be established for when discretionary funding is available. Doucette said in researching how other county's handle grants to nonprofits, she found variations from those that don't support nonprofits to those with very detailed policies for grant-giving.

"CASDA saves us a lot of money in the health and human services," said Supervisor Pat Ryan. "If they weren't there, it would cost us more money." She said the same is true for Superior Vocations, which helps provide people with jobs.

For the last two years, the County Board has restored funding through its budget for both organizations.

Douglas County's Administration Committee will create a new committee to create a policy for county-funded grant-making.

Doucette said the new policy wouldn't affect funding decisions for the 2018 budget but would be implemented before the 2019 budgeting process gets underway next year.

"We have to come up with a plan," said Supervisor Nick Baker.