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Board denies second funding request from Vision 2020

The first time Mower County Board members were asked to donate to Austin's Vision 2020 program, they were legally obligated to decline.

Though counties are legally able to support community action programs, the programs must provide "a measurable impact on poverty, the elderly and immigrants," among other restrictions.

"Technically, (Vision 2020) is to support the community," County Attorney Kristen Nelsen said last month, "but it just doesn't fit (county requirements) legally. It doesn't fit the definitions of what you can give money to."

So based on the legalities, the county board denied the $10,000 request.

Tuesday, the matter was before the board again — and again, the donation was denied.


Gary Ray, chairman of the steering committee for Vision 2020, told board members that all funding "is funneled through the (Development Corp. of Austin) because it's an economic development project in general."

That means it meets the legal definition of what counties can support, but it still didn't meet approval.

"I've spoken to several of my constituents, and they'd prefer I didn't spend property taxes in that manner," said District 4 representative Tony Bennett. "While I'm excited about the projects, I've got to respect my constituents, and ultimately, it's their charge."

Jerry Reinartz, District 3, said he was "very impressed with how it's pulled the community together. I've been here 40 years and have never seen anything like it.

"We have to be careful; this is taxpayer money," he said, then made a motion to donate the full amount. The motion died for lack of a second.

"I represent the eastern two-thirds of the county," said District 1 board member Ray Tucker. "There are a lot of little towns there, and if one of them came to me with this request, I'd tell them no. That's the position you're putting this board in. With the budget being a little bit out of whack, it's hard to use that funding source."

The Vision 2020 programs aren't Austin-exclusive, Gary Ray said.

"The other cities in the county will be able to utilize what's happening in Austin," he said, citing connecting bike paths and a revitalized Austin Utilities building.


"As a business owner, I'd have no problem donating to your cause," Tucker said, "but as a county commissioner, that's a different thing."

Board Chairman Mike Ankeny passed the gavel to Tucker, then made his own motion. With Reinartz's second, it failed by a 3-2 vote.

According to its website, "Vision 2020 is a community visioning process designed to generate 10 great ideas that can be implemented in Austin within the next decade."

Since finalizing the top 10 ideas in April, the Vision 2020 steering committee has requested a donation from Mower County, the city of Austin, DCA, Hormel Foods Corp. and several other entities to help fund start-up costs totaling $50,000 to pay for a facilitator, printing, grant-writing and professional services.

Ray said Tuesday the group is approaching the $50,000 mark.

The projects include an expanded bike/walk trail system; making Austin a leader in education; making downtown Austin a destination point; communitywide technology; embracing and maintaining the waterways; creating a business-friendly environment; building a gateway to Austin attraction; community recreation center; community pride and spirit; and revitalizating the Austin Utilities building.

The total cost of the 10 projects could reach $10 million to $20 million, according to Geoff Baker, a steering committee member.

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