McKenrick, Baughman propose funding for-profit businesses from Town’s general fund

BLYTHEWOOD – Council’s efforts to lasso thousands of dollars from the general fund to support a for-profit rodeo spurred a stampede of heated debate Monday night.

At a special called meeting, Councilman Rich McKenrick unveiled a proposal to revamp the way the Town funds outside agencies and events seeking financial support.

The plan, which would require two readings, creates a special “Community Impact Fund.” This fund would essentially serve as a pot of money from which outside agencies or events could request financial support.

A two-man subcommittee consisting of McKenrick and Councilman Ed Baughman developed the proposed policy.

“The subcommittee would ask council to be aware of the financial impact a new policy would have on current and future groups,” McKenrick said.

Baughman also promoted the plan his subcommittee developed.

“I feel pretty good about what the committee put together,” Baughman said. “I think we did a yeoman’s job.”

But the plan drew criticism from Councilman Donald Brock, who thought it would open the door to abuse, since it would allow for any for-profit entity to apply for funding.

“The way it [the policy] reads now, every single entity that could be considered a tourism-generator should be able to approach this council and ask for money,” Brock said.

McKenrick and Baughman said the determination of whether to fund both profit and non-profit entities would hinge on their ability to bring tourists to town.

“McDonald’s generates the most tourism in this town, but you would laugh if McDonald’s asked for money to fund a part-time employee,” Brock said, making his point.

Much of the for-profit pushback was directed toward the Doko Rodeo which receives $50,000 from the town annually.

Buck Coggins, owner of the rodeo, complained during Monday night’s meeting that he felt “interrogated” over rodeo funding. That “interrogation” came when Brock drew attention to Coggins financial numbers last year, saying they didn’t add up.

Coggins said he and the Town have been partners for 14 years.

“I’ve taken all the risk for 14 years,” Coggins said. “The Town takes no risks.”

Coggins’ remarks followed brief shouting from some members of the audience in response to a comment Brock made about some groups “siphoning” money from Town coffers.

Brock and Frankie McLean with the Blythewood Historical Society were discussing how the society diversifies its funding by applying for grants in addition to requesting town support.

“There are other funds out there that people could apply for other than siphoning off the Town of Blythewood,” Brock said.

“Absolutely. We have a lot of funding outside the town of Blythewood,” McLean said. “The Town has helped us tremendously but we get funds from other places, too.”

Then Brock turned to McKenrick and asked whether it would be prudent to require applicants to “exhaust all other measures” before leaning on the Town for support.

“If the historical society can do it, why can’t any other organization?” Brock asked.

“I don’t disagree with that statement,” McKenrick said.

“But it’s not in your policy,” Brock added.

“It’s not in the policy,” McKenrick replied.

At that point, several audience members protested from their seats.

Mike Ross, former town mayor and former chairman of the Greater Blythewood Chamber of Commerce, which receives around $60,000 funding annually from the town, claimed the chamber receives sponsorships, but doesn’t have the ability to get grants.

A woman said her golf association had tried to get grants but that they weren’t available for golf. The last person to speak, Calvin King of Range of Hope, another golf non-profit, told council that he had been able to receive grants for his organization.

Blythewood resident Trish Hovis took exception to Brock’s use of the word “siphon.”

“You used the word ‘siphon’ and that was downright insulting. Nobody is here to siphon anything,” said Hovis who was signed up to speak on another issue.

Instead of calling for decorum, Mayor Bryan Franklin publicly threw his “full support” behind the rodeo and funding it, and took the opportunity to criticize Brock.

“I also take exception with the term ‘siphon’,” Franklin said. “Ever since I’ve been mayor of this town, every single penny we have given out has been to support the values we’ve espoused as a town and a council and they have given big dividends back to our community.”

Some of the groups, including the for-profit rodeo, say town subsidies and sponsorships remain their preferred funding sources.

“We’re not siphoning anything off, we’re developing more funds,” Coggins said. “I ain’t got time to sit and write grants, time to sit around and punch on a computer all day. I’ve got work to do.”

The council is expected to vote on the proposed policy at the Aug. 28 council meeting.

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