The Public Service Agreement dance has been going on for months now.
If you know your dance moves, it looks something between the “chicken” dance, the Macarena and some 70s disco juke you would see at Funky Town about 10:30 on a Saturday evening (pre-COVID of course).
Every year or two, organizations that have financial ties to the City of Lee’s Summit — including Downtown Lee’s Summit Main Street, the Lee’s Summit Economic Development Council, the Lee’s Summit Chamber and, recently, Velocity Lee’s Summit — have to justify their existence to the mayor and City Council and hope (sometimes beyond hope) that they will get their monetary gifts for another fiscal year.
These funds largely come from the Bed and Industry tax on our hotel rooms, a tax that has taken a hit over the last 18 months.
The dance for DLSMS has been an interesting one over the years, somewhat needlessly littered with demands of “metrics'' and “deliverables” from some council members, while an acknowledgment of just how far our downtown has come in the last 10-15 years is largely silent. The organization boldly, under former director Jeanine Rann some 10 years ago, fought back and actually asked for a $20,000 increase in PSA funds (from $40k to $60k). And they received it.
Of course, they’ve seen no raise since, either through their own ask or from various Councils over the years. What DLSMS receives is still around 15% of their budget, a number that is embarrassingly low for the benefit the City, overall, receives. Downtown has more than 140 businesses, thousands of employees, has seen massive increases in tax revenue and investment by building and business owners over the last decade and will be welcoming some 375 or more new residents in less than a year at Second and Douglas streets.
Conversely, Velocity, which on the nonprofit spectrum would be kind of the exact opposite of Downtown Lee’s Summit — for just so many reasons — will most likely see no funds from the Council when the new fiscal year starts July 1.
Velocity chair Julia Hampton said she and her board are trying to look at the fund denial (which will be official with the June 22 public hearing and subsequent budget vote June 29) through a positive lens.
“Certain people were saddened we didn’t receive funding, but several of us looked at it as a positive because now we can seek funds elsewhere,” Hampton said. “Now we’re not relying on the city and we don’t have to follow their metrics.”
There’s that word again: metrics. It’s said so often I feel that famous line from “The Princess Bride” coming on. The next time a Council Member says it to any PSA, simply respond, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Velocity was first approved for funding in July of 2018, receiving a two-year allotment of $145,000. At the time, they still hadn’t officially received their 501(c)3 nonprofit status — a designation that would open the door to additional donors. It wasn’t until late October of 2019, more than five years since the first Velocity Lee’s Summit meetings had started (in the early days known as the Market Center for Ideas) that they finally got the nonprofit paperwork approved.
The three-year-trial period for Velocity is about to sunset, particularly of note for a group trying to find its nonprofit and entrepreneurial legs. How they bring in funds, how they find relevancy, all of it will be key to their future and ultimate survival.
Hampton noted that some had said they would be willing to join funding forces with Velocity, but that those funds wouldn’t happen as long as they were receiving money from the City.
“We’re going to go visit those people now and say, ‘we’d love to take your contributions,’” she said. “A lot of us knew we weren’t going to be funded. Our time was up.”
It will take some particular focus from a somewhat particularly unfocused group to make that happen, too. And just because City Council has said no doesn’t mean they wouldn’t revisit the topic in a year.
Hillary Shields, District 1 council member, noted that with limited funds, the Council’s “difficult choices” they were dealing with while evaluating and approving PSA funds.
“But I feel like they were the right ones,” she said. “I was glad we were able to approve some stop-gap marketing funds to continue promoting Lee's Summit tourism, and I'm looking forward to continued discussion about the creation of a Destination Marketing Organization to promote our community going forward.”
Those two amounts are not inconsequential: a possibility of $70,000 for Lee’s Summit tourism and another $100,000 for a DMO to work on promoting the city.
The Chamber of Commerce previously took on marketing, branding and other efforts and were funded for a full-time position and around $40,000 in tourism funds going back several years. The Chamber is no longer charged with tourism and community marketing, thankfully, and didn’t request those funds.
Over at the LSEDC, that group’s funding has been another source of contention for many years. LSEDC’s funding now sits at a cool $200,000, down from the over $250,000 it used to receive, for an organization that is charged with economic development in whatever form that takes at the time in Lee’s Summit — business retention, site selection, workforce development and incentives.
LSEDC has far more drawn the ire of some elected officials, wondering aloud what benefit is being derived from the organization as of late.
All those numbers combine for a mere pebble on what is a mountainous city budget, some $80 million-plus in the general fund. Even if we’re still claiming each fund is independent of one another, the randomness of some figures (what will the city actually do with $70,000 for tourism?) and the often-parental - sometimes contentious — tone taken with Downtown (often coupled with demands of “metrics” or other silly stipulations) begs the question if City Council is truly understanding the mission and goals of each PSA/nonprofit organization.
Editor's Note: Nick Parker, publisher of Link 2 Lee's Summit, is a member of the Board of Directors for both Downtown Lee's Summit Main Street and Velocity Lee's Summit. He did not contribute to the content of this guest column.