New budget puts Beaufort-Jasper economic alliance in funding fix

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New budget puts Beaufort-Jasper economic alliance in funding fix

By GRANT MARTIN
gmartin@islandpacket.com
Published Friday, June 29, 2012   |  370 Words  |  

The Lowcountry Economic Alliance is facing an uncertain future after losing out this week on hundreds of thousands of dollars in matching funds.

In approving the state's budget Thursday, legislators sided with a version backed by the S.C. House of Representatives classifying the alliance as a county-level organization rather than a regional alliance.

The distinction was lobbied for by Jasper County legislators after Jasper County quit the alliance earlier this year, saying they were frustrated by what they called the slow pace of the group.

The Senate's budget version had classified the Lowcountry group among the state's seven regional alliances, making it eligible for as much as $671,000 in matching funds.

The House budget awards up to $87,500 in matching funds to Beaufort County -- a figure alliance board chairman David Tigges said he hopes will be used to benefit his group.

"We'll pursue other grants and private fundraising," he said, deflecting concerns about the alliance's short-term viability.

"Operationally, we'll be solid for the next fiscal year," he said, adding that fundraising efforts coupled with the alliance's $340,000 in reserves could push the group's capital "north of half a million dollars."

He was optimistic the alliance could be eligible for the matching funds next year.

"Anything's possible, and 12 months from now is an eternity," he said. "That gives us time to adjust."

According to Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, the budget committee was influenced by Jasper County legislators' criticism of the support the alliance gave to deepening the Savannah River for Savannah's port. He added that Jasper County's criticism, while effective, was undermined by its previous endorsement of the controversial dredging project.

"My inference is that Jasper County reversed its position to attain a tactical advantage in the economic alliance funding negotiations (with Jasper County officials knowing full well that many legislators hate the idea of improvements to the Savannah port)," he wrote in a statement.

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