01/11/12 — Officials advise: Think hard on projects

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Officials advise: Think hard on projects

By Steve Herring
Published in News on January 11, 2012 1:46 PM

The $2 million the Golden LEAF Foundation has reserved for Wayne County for community-based projects seems like a lot of money, but given the county's many needs, it won't go far, officials with a number of organizations said Tuesday.

Golden LEAF officials held a meeting at Wayne Community College Tuesday night to lay the groundwork for the foundation's Community Assistance Initiative, which will guide Golden LEAF officials in distributing the money.

Over the next several months, Golden LEAF officials will narrow the list of requests for grants, which do not require local matching money.

But representatives of local organizations that filled a classroom in the Walnut Building were told they needed to work together to come up with the best proposals, to reach a consensus on where the money will best help the county.

Golden LEAF funds come from the tobacco buyout and settlement reached several years ago between the government and the tobacco companies. A portion of the money paid out by the companies was set aside to boost economic development and quality of life in the state. The foundation was created to distribute the money.

Deciding on the priorities is a task that will have to be done the first time around, officials said. There are no "do-overs" or "backtracking," once decisions are reached, they said. The public is welcome to attend any of the meetings, but once the process nears completion, there will be no "backtracking" then either, the officials said.

The standing room-only crowd included members of the Wayne County Board of Commissioners, the Goldsboro City Council, Mount Olive College, Wayne Community College, the county Board of Education, the county Development Alliance and several non-profit organizations.

"You have to tell us what the key issues are and then the goals," said Pat Cabe, foundation vice president of programs/community assistance and outreach. "The $2 million won't even begin to cover the projects that you have in mind. You have to decide what the projects are.

"We want to understand what the top two or three issues are that you want to focus on. That will drive the process. It is a community discussion. You want to put together projects that make sense."

Projects will not be discussed until decisions have been reached on key issues and desired results, Ms. Cabe said.

The process will require six meetings spanning several months, the first of which will be devoted to planning, brainstorming and key issues, she said.

The next meetings will be held Feb. 7 and March 13 at 5:30 p.m. at the college

The local group will submit a list of proposals to the foundation for review. Once that review is completed, foundation officials will go over the results of that review with those attending the meetings.

Next, a local review committee of between nine and 15 people will be appointed to select the final projects to be submitted to the foundation board, which will make the final decision.

Ms. Cabe said members of the local review committee will be required to sign a conflict-of-interest document meaning they cannot vote for their own project.

Once the projects are approved, the grants will be distributed directly to the organizations. There is no "middle man," she said. Also, the organizations that are funded will be held accountable for how the money is spent, she said.

In considering projects, Ms. Cabe said, it is important for local officials to look at sustainability -- how a project will fare once the grant money is used -- and how well local leaders will be able to obtain other funding, such as local matches.

The projects should be the ones that will "do the most good for the most people," she emphasized.

Applicants must be either a government entity or a 501-c3 nonprofit organization. Projects for private benefit will not be consider, Ms. Cabe said. Normally, the grants are not awarded for the purchase of land or buildings, reimbursement for prior expenditures or for capital campaigns or to build endowments.

The foundation is targeting 46 counties in the state that are currently, or have been a Tier 1 county at some point since 2007. The state annually ranks the state's 100 counties based on economic well-being and assigns each a Tier designation. The 40 most distressed counties are Tier 1, the next 40 Tier 2 and the 20 least distressed Tier 3. Wayne County had been a Tier 1 county, but has been moved to Tier 2.

Thus far, the foundations has completed work in 33 counties, and has eight under way, including Wayne, with five counties left.