Officials discuss grant funding

Published 12:59 am Thursday, October 13, 2011

A cross section of Beaufort County politicians, special-interest groups and nonprofit organizations met with Golden LEAF Foundation officials Tuesday to get specifics on possibly getting their share of about $2 million in grant money.

They met at Beaufort County Community College for the first of six projected meetings to be held by the foundation, which has reserved approximately $2 million of potential grant money to stimulate economic growth and promote community progress in the county.

The grant money originates from the Master Settlement Agreement of 1998, when 46 states settled a lawsuit against the tobacco industry for tobacco-related, Medicaid health-care costs. Half of North Carolina’s share of those funds was designated by the state, through Golden LEAF, to help economically distressed counties make the transition from tobacco- and textile-based industries to a more prosperous economy, promoting long-term economic growth.

The process of obtaining grants from Golden LEAF promises to be an arduous one. The critical element in the initial stage of planning is consensus among the many, and varied, groups on key issues affecting Beaufort County’s economic growth. Once consensus is reached in this first phase, the next step is agreement on the funding priorities of Beaufort County. Both steps are designed to foster an environment of community-wide cooperation.

“We only facilitate the meetings. The process belongs to everyone in this room,” said Pat Cabe, vice president of programs/community assistance and outreach for Golden LEAF.

Traditionally, Golden LEAF’s board has been supportive of projects focusing on human infrastructure (job training, K-12 programs), physical infrastructure (sewage lines, roads), health care and job creation. Projects centered on parks and recreation, general tourism and new construction of community centers, though acknowledged as important to the community, have historically been less likely to see approval by the foundation’s board.

“Our board is looking for a few grants of significant size,” Golden LEAF President Dan Gerlach said. “We’re looking to create a generation of jobs that will help people make a living.”

The exact nature of those jobs will be based on what the collective effort of community participants decides is needed for Beaufort County. Attendees at the meeting — Beaufort County Schools, United Health System-Beaufort Hospital, Bath High School Preservation, Pungo Future Farmers of America, Washington Harbor District Alliance, Beaufort-Hyde Partnership for Children, Blackbeard Adventure Alliance and others – suggested the broad spectrum of those needs.

The next meeting, set for Nov. 10, will begin the effort to decide key economic issues. Individual project proposals by nonprofit (501c3) organizations and government entities will not be entertained until much further along in the process, and then, only if a project is determined vital to improving the community.

To accomplish the Herculean task of deciding what is economically best for Beaufort County, an atmosphere of cooperation and compromise must be developed at the earliest stage of the process, according to Golden LEAF.

“I guarantee, at some point in the process, everyone (taking part) will be unhappy,” said Cabe, with a smile.

Gerlach and Cabe have successfully overseen Golden LEAF grant-writing efforts in 33 of North Carolina’s Tier 1 counties. Though they have yet to experience a complete breakdown of the process, Gerlach does not hesitate to say that if Beaufort County can’t come to a widely supported consensus, the foundation will move on to a more community-minded county, taking its $2 million with it.

“It will work,” added Gerlach, ending the meeting on a positive note. “You will come together and get it done.”