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Budget may cut Golden LEAF’s programs

As Senate Bill 13 — also known as the Balanced Budget Act of 2011 — sits on Gov. Beverly Perdue’s desk, the fate of Golden LEAF’s 2011 budget remains uncertain.

A provision in the bill calls for using $67.5 million from Golden LEAF’s budget to help decrease the state’s budget deficit.

Golden LEAF was created in 1999 as a nonprofit corporation by court order in the consent decree resolving tobacco litigation started by the N.C. Department of Justice. It receives half of the funds coming to North Carolina as a result of the master settlement agreement. It makes grants to nonprofit and government agencies in efforts to improve the economic and social conditions of the state’s residents. Among its goals is receiving and distributing money for economic impact assistance.

LEAF stands for Long-Term Economic Advancement Foundation.

Golden LEAF President Dan Gerlach answered questions about Golden LEAF’s overall presence in eastern North Carolina in a recent interview with the Daily News. Gerlach noted the foundation’s budget is lowest its been since 2007.

Gerlach also noted that eastern North Carolina is one of the hardest-hit areas in the state in terms of unemployment.

“Five of the six counties in the region (Beaufort, Hyde, Martin, Tyrrell, and Washington) are Tier 1 counties — those rated among the most economically distressed in the state,” he said.

Golden LEAF has awarded 53 grants totaling $15.3 million in the six-county region. Gerlach said the foundation has 23 active grants in the region, with 11 pending grants. The pending Community Assistance Initiative grants are mostly for Tyrrell County.

The foundation has a major grant program called the Community Assistance Initiative, whereby it sets aside a reserve of up to $2 million in each Tier 1 county to fund projects determined through a community-based process with citizens in each county. Hyde, Martin, and Washington have completed this process which takes an average of six months.

Gerlach said this initiative is somewhat different than Golden LEAF’s regular work.

“It differs from a normal grant program in that local citizens choose the priorities, introduce projects and evaluate and rate the projects according to criteria agreed on by attendees. It is a very transparent process and very rewarding. Local citizens have substantial say in that grants making,” he said. “We are nearing the end of the process in Tyrrell, and expect to make grants in June for that county. We expect to begin the process in Beaufort County later this year. This is our biggest area of grants making in the region.”

Gerlach also noted the foundation gives grants through its economic-catalyst cycle. These are job-creation and investment projects in which North Carolina is competing with other states and nations to land a particular business.

A recent example of this was the successful effort to expand PAS USA’s presence in Washington with plans to hire an additional 239 employees to provide parts for Whirlpool appliances. The Golden LEAF board awarded $750,000 to help the Beaufort County Committee of 100 acquire needed equipment and lease it to the company. The company will repay that amount plus interest over time, and the Committee of 100 will use the reimbursement for future projects.