Archive for Thursday, February 20, 2014

Douglas County adopts budget transparency reforms

The Douglas County Courthouse is the seat of Douglas County government.

The Douglas County Courthouse is the seat of Douglas County government.

February 20, 2014

Some outside agencies that receive county funding will undergo more reporting and monitoring under a measure that Douglas County commissioners approved Wednesday.

Commissioners voted 3-0 to approve a modified version of a plan that Commissioner Mike Gaughan introduced two weeks ago. That would have required outside groups such as the Douglas County Legal Aid Society, the Humane Society and others to enter agreements with the county detailing how the public funds would be used, and to provide detailed accounting for those funds at the end of each budget year.

But Commissioner Jim Flory argued that was too broad, and he suggested making a distinction between agencies that get funding for specific projects and those for whom the county simply provides general operating assistance.

The one outside program that drew the most discussion was the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, which is receiving $218,000 this year from Douglas County, as well as an identical amount from the city of Lawrence.

Lawrence resident Dan Dannenberg told commissioners he had grown frustrated trying to find out how the Chamber spends the money it receives, especially when the Chamber appears before the Lawrence City Commission to argue for tax abatements and other kinds of economic development incentives for businesses.

But county administrator Craig Weinaug said none of the money provided by either the city or county goes for the Chamber's advocacy efforts. In fact, Weinaug said, the money doesn't actually go to the Chamber at all.

Weinaug said those funds actually go to an "economic development partnership" which is housed in the Chamber's offices but is jointly run by the city, county and the Chamber. Those funds are used mainly to pay the salaries of staff who are directly involved in marketing the community to prospective businesses.

In other business, the commission approved a conditional use permit for Tamara Fairbanks-Ishmael to operate a business, Good Earth Gatherings, on property she owns at 858 East 1500 Road, which is zoned for residential and agricultural use.

The business includes offering arts and crafts classes a few times a week and an ancillary retail operation selling supplies and materials for those projects.

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