Non-profits scramble to raise funding

City of Camas will not contribute to farmers market and downtown association in 2011

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The impacts of Camas’ $800,000 budget shortfall are being felt deeply in every municipal department — but the impacts don’t stop there.

Two local non-profit organizations that typically receive funding from the city are also feeling the pain. The Camas Downtown Association and the Camas Farmers Market have been stricken from the proposed 2011 budget, which is expected to be voted on by City Council next month.

The CDA has received financial support from the city since 2002 when it was known as the Downtown Vision Coalition. Working hand-in-hand with the city, the DVC was officially formed that year to oversee the implementation of several specific goals and projects intended to improve the downtown business district.

“We were very surprised,” said current DCA President Caroline Mercury, who is employed at Georgia-Pacific. “We’re not unrealistic, we knew the city had to make some difficult choices. But we were hoping there would be a token of support that we are an important part of the community.”

The city’s contributions to the Downtown Camas Association/DVC have been substantial in the past. Those numbers include $38,279 in 2010; $37,789 in 2009, $90,433 in 2008, $145,426 in 2007; $105,365 in 2006, and $59,196 in 2005.

Those monies have been spent in a variety of ways, from marketing and advertising and enhancing the downtown street-scape, to paying for portions of the salaries and benefits for city employees.

Camas Mayor Paul Dennis said dealing with such a drastic shortfall made the budget process challenging.

“It was difficult,” he said. “We have had [the DCA] in the budget for the last eight years or so. But when it came time to make those tough decisions, we just couldn’t make it fit within the budget.”

For the DCA, the blow was softened a bit by the fact that in September it was the recipient of a $45,000 donation from Riverview Community Bank. The contribution was made through the state’s Main Street tax incentive program, which allows businesses to contribute a total of up to $250,000 annually to eligible downtown or neighborhood commercial district revitalization organizations, and receive 75 percent back in the form of credit on its business and occupation tax for the following year.

“It’s really the only reason we are here,” Mercury said. “Had that not been the case, we would have been out of business and doing what we could with elbow grease and the strong group of volunteers that we have.”

The DCA and its volunteer board members are already in the throes of working to secure additional donations from larger local businesses through the Main Street program. Its next major endeavor will be to focus on developing a community gathering space in the next two to five years.

Mercury said the DCA and its efforts have support in the community.

“You have some very high powered people who are interested in making things happen and leaving things better than we found them,” she said. “I feel like that it is our job to create that atmosphere and nurture it. We are on the cusp in Camas of going to that next stage.”

With 2012 looking to be as difficult budget-wise as 2011, Dennis said officials are considering other options, including whether the city can make contributions to the DCA through the Main Street program. The city pays business and occupation taxes to the state, based on utilities.

“We are looking into it to see if it is even feasible,” he said. “It is an indirect way of providing funding, and keeping those dollars local.”

The Camas Farmer’s Market was established in 2008 as an offshoot of the DCA, and later became its own non-profit with its own board of directors.

The city’s contributions to the Camas Farmers Market have decreased with each passing year. When the market was first formed, the city budgeted $21,323 for the non-profit organization, followed by $10,257 in 2009 and down to just $218 in 2010.

Farmers market board president Jaime Morin said it takes $20,000 to put on the market each year. The budget for the May through September events have been supported with funds from the city, contributions from the DCA, as well as vendor fees and grants.

In addition to providing a venue for local farmers to sell fresh fruits and vegetables, the Wednesday market held in front of City Hall on Northeast Fourth Avenue also offers live music and has an educational component.

A public donation campaign is underway, and additional grant funding sources are being researched.

“We are actively pursuing sponsors right now,” Morin said. “We will need to find some financial support to continue the market at the same level as in the past. I am confident we can do that.”

She added that the farmer’s market offers local residents unique opportunities — those intangible benefits that aren’t budget line items.

“I think the market provides a great place for people to engage with each other and be a part of the community,” Morin said. “I bring my kids down, and it’s a great way to show them where their food comes from. They get to talk to the farmers, they try different fruits and vegetables. They can know that they are part of the community.”