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Published: Tuesday, 12/11/2012

Sylvania civic groups bid for shares of limited funds

BY KELLY McLENDON
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Members of Sylvania City's Council's employee and community relations committee were tasked with finding creative ways to tackle budgetary restrictions in the face of funding requests at Monday's committee meeting.

Committee members heard from the leaders of four community organizations who have requested funding from the city's community programs fund: the Sylvania Area Chamber of Commerce, the Sylvania Arts Commission, Sylvania Community Action Team and Sylvania Area Family Services. This year, council received requests for the community fund totaling $91,250, but have budgeted for only $76,000.

Committee chairman Mark Luetke said the groups were already aware that it was a rough environment to ask for funding. The city recently predicted a $2.4-2.6 million shortfall in next year's budget that will force officials to operate on reserves. 

The organizations' leaders were each permitted to give 15-minute presentations. .

Pat Nowak, executive director of the Sylvania Area Chamber of Commerce, submitted a $28,500 funding request. She said the chamber contributes positively to the community and serves as the voice of businesses.

“We are blessed with a great downtown with a great opportunity, both for the community and other businesses,” she said. “All the stuff we do plays on the strengths of both Main Street and the businesses.” One of the chamber's biggest assets, she said, is that it “looks at unique and different events,” to bring to the city.

Kate Conway, vice president of the Sylvania Arts Commission, said her team also has big ideas for the city and how it can help.

“We're exploding with ideas,” she said. “Just one of our goals, in addition to promoting the arts and culture in this community, is to use art as economic development.” As an all-volunteer group, she said the commission has helped fund programs to keep the arts in schools and is also bringing a film festival to Sylvania in April. The organization submitted a funding request for $10,000 to the committee.

While three of the organizations asked for increases in award funding, the Sylvania Community Action Team did not increase the amount of its request.

Executive director Deb Chany said the organization has been part of the Sylvania community since 1985 and works to prevent drug and alcohol use in adolescents. She said a grant program that was awarded in 2003 has allowed the organization to grow, but the grant dollars will soon be ending,  resulting in an annual loss of $125,000.

The organization requested $15,750.

“...We wanted to ask for the same thing this year,” she said. “We feel that we are a good investment. The group sponsors a community drug drop-off project, in addition to compliance checks and party patrols.

Jason Robertson, executive director of Sylvania Area Family Services, reported that budget constraints and funding reductions have affected the organization's staff.

“We've been hurting the last few years,” he said, citing that two of the organization's employees have taken a 10 percent paycut, another has been subjected to a 20 percent cut and he has implemented a 5 percent cut on his own salary.

The cuts come at a shaky time, when Sylvania Area Family Services has seen an increase in the need for the services it offers, he said, who is asking for $31,000. 

“We've seen a 33 percent increase over the last several years for a need for our services,” Mr. Roberston said. He said the organization's food programs see an estimated 60 families per week.

A fifth organization, the Sylvania Area Community Improvement Corporation, has requested $6,000 from the city, but did not attend the meeting.

Committee members urged the four groups to seek out alternate funding avenues. But committee member Mike Brown asked his fellow council members to really think about that request.

“We need to take into consideration that we're asking to go out and seek funding elsewhere, through grants and stuff, but a big portion on how they get these grants is community contributions, so it's kind of a Catch-22 for us,” Mr. Brown said. “We're asking them to go out and seek grants and we're reducing community support.”

But committee member Doug Haynam suggested a solution to bridge the gap. Starting Jan. 1, the city will begin collecting hotel and motel tax from the Wingate by Wyndham, located on Main Street. The hotel has had an exemption since the day it opened that expires on Dec. 31. The 3 percent tax imposed on guests is expected to provide between $60,000-$70,000 annually to the city.

“I would love to think about marrying these two --- our community projects and our hotel/motel tax,” Mr. Haynam said.

The four groups will have to wait to know whether they will receive the requested funding amounts.

Mr. Luetke said he hopes the committee will have a finished budget document at the next regular council meeting, which is scheduled for Dec. 17 at 7 p.m. in council chambers.

Contact Kelly McLendon at kmclendon@theblade.com or 419-206-0356 or on Twitter at @MyTownSylvania.



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