Casino funds making a difference around Greene County
Board members of the Grow Greene County Gaming Corp. enjoyed their second best day of the year last Friday.
Grow Greene is the nonprofit corporation that receives and distributes five percent of the gaming receipts from the Wild Rose Jefferson casino. Those funds total about $1.4 million annually. By the end of 2019, they will approach or surpass $1.5 million for the year.
The best day of the year for Grow Greene is around the first of April.
That’s when the board holds its grant awards event to announce and present checks to municipalities, school districts, the community foundations of Greene and surrounding counties, Greene County Development Corp., and a number of nonprofit civic organizations that apply for and receive grants.
The second best day comes a few months later, when the board drives around the county to visit some of the projects for which the grants are made.
(Full disclosure: I’m one of the eight members of the Grow Greene board.)
Tour Day is chock full of pride, both from the towns where the projects are located and from the Grow Greene board members who are able to provide some funding for the local efforts.
It’s not possible to visit every project. That would take many days, even weeks.
This year we took a circuit through the county to four communities: Churdan, Dana, Rippey and Jefferson.
At Churdan, the library board and staff treated us to a guided tour of their beautiful expanded facility.
At Dana, we visited about how town officials are improving the park with the municipal grant that community received.
At Rippey, we were shown the remodeling in progress at the former school gym, which will become a commodious municipal building.
And at Jefferson, we took a look at the new floor of the community center and the new sound and lighting system at Robby Pedersen’s History Boy Theatre.
Grow Greene funds helped make all those projects possible.
You can well imagine our satisfaction in being able to help out with worthwhile efforts countywide. But our pride pales in comparison with that of the local volunteers and staff members whose generous gifts of money, time, talent and volunteer labor are at the heart of each local project.
The money Grow Greene provides for worthwhile projects doesn’t belong to the board members themselves, of course. We’re only its agents.
State-regulated casinos in Iowa, by law, are required to share some of their gaming receipts with the local nonprofit “qualifying sponsoring organization” (QSO) that holds the gaming license for the county.
Here, that organization is Grow Greene.
Our job is to distribute the funds the best way we know how. But the true backbone of each recipient project is the group and the volunteers that use Grow Greene funding to supplement their efforts.
A classic example is the expansion and remodeling of the Churdan library.
On Sunday afternoon, two days after Grow Greene toured the facility, I attended the open house held there by the board and staff. The event was packed with area residents and well-wishers.
The Churdan library is truly a community center.
It holds a large number of programs through the year for residents of all ages. Separate wings of the facility serve preschool, elementary and young adult visitors, as well as the general public section. There’s a sizable meeting room for group functions with a large electronic viewing screen for presenting Power Points and visual aids. There’s a kitchen as well.
Some members of the Churdan library board have served in that capacity for decades, and have worked on several expansion projects of the facility.
When the construction work made emptying out the building necessary, staff and volunteers moved 11,000 items to another location, and then moved them back when the expansion was completed.
Presenters at the open house graciously noted Grow Greene’s financial help for the expansion. That award (actually two separate grants over successive years) was easy for the board to approve — it was a perfect fit to assist with a truly community-wide, multi-year effort.
The library board, staff and volunteers held 34 fundraisers over a period of several years: dinners, contests, celebrations, etc. Local well-wishers and other foundations gave generously to make the expansion a success. It was a well-coordinated achievement that will serve Churdan area residents well for years to come.
A final note:
Iowa law requires counties that approved a casino referendum, like Greene, to hold a second referendum eight years after the initial one. Greene County voters approved their referendum in 2013. So another referendum must be held in 2021.
If the county’s voters OK the second one, the license will remain in effect perpetually, under Iowa law as it now stands.
For the grants from casino funds to continue in Greene County, the 2021 referendum must be approved.
The Grow Greene board understands that the 2021 referendum will also be, in fact, a referendum on how it distributes casino funds.
Every year we consider what changes we might make to our distribution process. Grant requests always outstrip our available funds, so tough choices have to be made.
We hope that in 2021, Greene County voters will give thumbs up to the cumulative effect of eight years’ worth of grants — which by then will total well over $10 million — and vote to continue our cooperation with worthwhile civic projects.