Suamico, Howard discuss sharing grant writer with HSSD
By Kevin Boneske
SUAMICO – The village board agreed earlier this month to have Village Administrator Alex Kaker continue looking into the possibility of Suamico sharing a grant writer with the Village of Howard and the Howard-Suamico School District.
Kaker said Suamico currently has the second-lowest tax rate among municipalities in Brown County, and to help keep it that way, the village needs to “find creative revenue solutions beyond property taxes.”
“Hopefully the wetland mitigation bank is one of those solutions,” Kaker said. “Another concept I’ve been looking into is one I found in Waupaca. The city, chamber of commerce and school district collaborated to hire a shared grant writer. That grant writer works for all three entities and researches and applies for grants.”
Since the concept began last fall in Waupaca, he said the entities received nearly $1.5 million in grant funding.
Kaker said he has met with Howard Village Administrator Paul Evert and Howard-Suamico School District Superintendent Damian LaCroix to discuss how a grant writer could potentially work.
“We also did meet with the Waupaca group to better understand logistically how it worked for them,” he said. “In talking with our department heads, there are definitely grant opportunities out there, but the time it takes to find and write them – competitive grant applications – our time is just limited.”
As presently proposed, Kaker said the hiring could happen Jan. 1, 2022.
The grant writer would be an employee of and have a permanent office within the school district.
“Kind of like with the Village of Howard and the humane officer, we would contract or have a memorandum of understanding through the school district,” he said. “We think that the position, all in, with salary, benefits, training (and) technology, would be about $70,000 a year.”
Because the school district has a larger budget and more grant opportunities than the two villages, Kaker said the proposed cost-sharing would be 50% for HSSD ($35,000), 30% for Howard ($21,000) and 20% for Suamico ($14,000).
“This is a position where it’s interesting that you can easily grade the success or the failure of it,” he said. “Are they going to bring in more than $14,000 a year from grants? If yes, this is a great concept. If they don’t, well, obviously, we need to revisit it and potentially not do it the following year.”
Kaker described the grant writer position as “levy neutral,” because it should bring in more revenue than it costs.
Trustee Michelle Eckert, who cast the lone dissenting vote, said she was against hiring a grant writer because “free money is never free.”
“Many of the things these grants do bring requires us to maintain for a lifetime,” she said. “I just don’t think this is a good deal.”
Village President Laura Nelson asked Kaker whether grants received by the district would result in lower property taxes for school purposes.
“If the school district raises money in another way other than property taxes, yes, they wouldn’t need to, theoretically, tax the village residents to cover those projects,” Kaker said.
Trustee Jason Ward said he favored a one-year trial period.
“I think if we find it’s unequal, that’s where I would want that one-year (trial period),” he said. “After that one year, if we find we have not received what we want out of the agreement, that’s when we can decide to move out.”
Trustee Dan Roddan said he would measure whether the position is successful not by whether each entity receives its annual share back in grant money, but with at least a threefold return on investment.
“I think the school district should expect over $100,000,” he said. “I think we should expect $50,000-plus.”
Based on the share of costs, Kaker said the grant writer should work eight hours a week solely for Suamico.
“I would be monitoring that and asking for weekly reports – you know, what are you working on this week?” he said. “That’s how we’re going to try to make sure they are paying attention to everybody and giving them their due time.”
Kaker said all grant applications for the village would still require board approval.
“Before we even apply for a grant, the board’s going to have to look at that grant opportunity, see what types of strings are attached, if any, and then sign off on it before you actually apply for it,” he said.
Nelson said the position wouldn’t commit Suamico to a particular grant.
“We’re not giving a blanket ‘no,’ but we’re not bound by saying, ‘yes, that’s what we’re going to do,’” she said.
The board’s motion authorizes Kaker to continue discussions with the school district and Howard related to having a joint grant writer.
It would come back to the board in the future for final approval.
Support in Howard
The Howard village board discussed the same topic at its meeting Monday, June 14, with all nine board members backing a motion to continue discussions with HSSD and Suamico.
Evert said sharing the position would be less expensive than Howard hiring a firm for its own grant writer, which would cost more than $100 an hour.
“The school district also feels that they usually aren’t aware of grants or don’t have the time to have staff write the grants,” he said. “The idea was to give it a whirl if we’d all go together and share a grant writer.”
Evert said someone hired as a trained grant writer “could look out for grant opportunities that we don’t really avail ourselves to.”
“We kind of apply for the grants we typically apply for – things for highways, roads, parks,” he said. “We don’t really do much in terms of asking foundations for money.”
Because the school district budgets on the state’s fiscal year from July 1-June 30, compared to the villages budgeting on a calendar year, Evert said a commitment to continue discussions about sharing a grant writer would allow the position to be considered for the next budget cycle.
He said both villages and the school district would be involved in the interview process and also review the position.
“We would have a lot of say and direction over what the employee looks (like) and who that employee is,” Evert said.
Trustee Chris Nielsen said he would prefer the position be split so each village would be responsible for 25% of the cost.
“I love the idea (of a shared grant writer),” he said. “I think it’s a really good idea. I would feel more comfortable with (a) 50-25-25 (split). I think it would be hard for someone looking for these grants to differentiate the two communities.”
However, Evert said having Howard cover 30% and Suamico pay 20% is based on the population of the two villages.
“We are the larger community,” he said. “We’re the faster-growing community at this rate.”
Village President Burt McIntyre questioned whether there could be a conflict between the two villages by having a shared position looking for grants on certain projects.
“Whose loyalty does the grant writer go to, and how would a conflict like that be resolved?” he asked.
Evert said it would come down to how often there would be a grant both communities would want to spend their own money on matching funds.
“It’s rarely free money, completely free money,” he said. “We can actually have that discussion. At some point, it might mean… both communities do it themselves and the grant writer steps back.”
A draft of an agreement provided to the Howard village board for shared grant writer services calls for the position to have a three-year term.
Evert said he would prefer offering the position for three years, rather than a one-year trial period suggested by the Suamico village board because having only a year commitment could limit the pool of candidates.