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Controversy stirring in Butte over economic development funding

Posted at 2:42 PM, May 20, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-20 17:57:04-04

BUTTE – There’s a debate over whether Butte’s Council of Commissioners should be in charge of distributing $65,000 in local taxpayer-funded grant money for local events such as the summer festivals, or turn that responsibility over to the Butte Local Development Corporation to use the money for business development projects.

Some don’t believe giving the BLDC that authority is a good idea.

“They say they will administer a fund, but at the same time they say they will need $26,000 or so for administration purposes. To me that sounds like they are in need of funding,” said George Everett of Mainstreet Uptown Butte and who organizes the Montana Folk Festival.

The fear is if the county gives up the economic mill levy fund to the BLDC, groups like the Montana Folk Festival and the An Ri Ra Irish Festival will miss out on that funding.

“It just lessens that argument when we go to other potential funders, sponsors and say, ‘well, the county’s all in, they are supporting this event, they’re a full partner,’ yet they withdrew funding from the economic mill levy fund,” said Everett.

Supporters of the move say the BLDC has expertise and economic development and this money is needed to support local businesses, not just tourism.

“The number one goal is to incentivize economic development and that means a lot of different things sometimes to people but creating jobs, creating new business,” said Butte Community Development Director Karen Byrnes.

George Everett argued, “It’s pretty clear that tourism is the number one industry in the state and if you are working to develop tourism to Butte, you’re working on something that’s an economic development project.”

It’s also believed the BLDC can get more bang for the buck.

“They would also be able to leverage those dollars designated from the grant pool with other potential dollars that they have access to through state and federal programs. They could actually match those dollars so it could actually grow the pool of funds available,” said Byrnes.

Because there’s still some debate and more question about this issue the Council of Commissioners did not make a decision this week on what to do with the money until the matter can be discussed further.

“All we ask is just take your time, slow down a little bit, discuss this because there might be a win-win solution that’s not giving all the money over to the BLDC and taking it away from anyone else that may want to apply for that,” said Everett.

Reporting by John Emeigh for MTN News