Garner Cleveland Record

Leaders spar over Denver trip

Garner leaders sparred briefly recently over how to pay to send a delegation to Denver in June to take part in the National Civic League’s All-America City competition.

After a debate over pulling money from cash reserves, the council agreed to a split of the $50,000 estimated cost: half from the town and half from donations and self-funded travel by participants.

The town is among 20 finalists for 10 awards, which are given every year. Since 1949, more than 600 communities have received the honor. Delegations from other towns have ranged from four to 94, with an average of around 30, said town management analyst Kady Doelling.

As she laid out needed preparations for the event, Doelling presented a staff-prepared cap of $50,000 to send a delegation of about 40 to Denver. She proposed using $12,000 already set aside in the budget, $19,000 from corporate sponsors and $19,000 from the general fund.

Councilman Gra Singleton objected to dipping into cash reserves, noting that town policy prevents the council from doing so except for capital projects. He noted that the town filled a gap in the fire budget the same way, and he worried about the policy becoming moot.

“It’s been beaten into our heads,” he said of the rules passed in 2010.

Town staff defended the cost. Town Manager Hardin Watkins said if Garner wanted to bring its best people to make the town’s All-America case, some expense would be unavoidable. The distance to Denver – 1,680 miles by car – doesn’t help either, he said.

“I want to bring in the best proposal we can make, and it requires funding,” Watkins said. “When I came aboard, you asked us to become a regional presence.”

Councilwoman Kathy Behringer didn’t want to short-change the delegation. The group will likely include some town staff and elected officials, but most will be young people, managers of projects such as the veterans’ memorial, members of the business community and other representatives of the town’s accomplishments and diversity.

“Good enough is often the enemy of the best,” Behringer said. “If we have a shot at the best, I think we should go for it.”

Councilman Buck Kennedy initially proposed the 50-50 split. Watkins then said he would find the remaining $13,000 of the town share without touching the cash reserves. He said some spending this year was running below projections.

With just two months until the event, the town has a small window for choosing the delegation, developing a theme, producing a video submission, preparing for a presentation and Q&A session and making travel plans. Now the town is facing the prospect of raising $25,000 to cover half of the cost.

Councilman Ken Marshburn said that if he were invited, he wouldn’t expect the town to pick up his tab. Kennedy suggested it wouldn’t be out of line to ask invitees to pay their way or for a portion. But Watkins said that wouldn’t be appropriate in all cases, such as with young people.

It’s possible, too, that Garner has exhausted its fundraising sources. Though likely excited for the promotion of Garner, many businesses and groups donated to the veterans’ memorial – a key pillar to the All-America pitch – and many have donated to the Relay for Life later this month. That event raises nearly $200,000 each year in Garner.

But Behringer said not asking people to donate was a recipe for failure. Others joined her in promising to work to raise money.

Marshburn said the town was in a great place and that figuring out the funding for such an award was a good problem to have.

“This is a pretty big deal. I don’t want the funding issue to be a contentious one,” he said. “I think we can get it done.”