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NTC Financial Woes Examined

Fri, Jun 28th, 2013
Posted in Preston All

The Preston City Council held a special meeting on June 25 to hear from representatives of the National Trout Center regarding their 2013 budget. Councilman David Collett was absent. Several members of the NTC board of directors were present. NTC Chairman George Spangler and director of programs and operations Heath Sershen laid out their fund raising efforts and updated the council on the 2013 budget.

The NTC is a non-profit organization with 501(c)3 status from the IRS.

On October 6, 2009 a resolution of commitment was adopted by the city council to develop the center. Spangler said that resolution pointed to a five year time frame and has been the guiding instrument for the NTC board. EDA chairman Chuck Aug called the NTC the EDA’s brain child. Therefore, he said they have some responsibility to make it successful.

Aug noted that last year a decision was made to hire a full time director to help raise more revenue, admitting that so far that has not materialized. Aug insisted they want the NTC to continue, but that for the future much more of a revenue stream needs to be developed. This revenue has to come mostly from contributions, as it can’t come from programming.

Aug maintained he felt the funding would come and insisted the idea is worthy of the city’s support. He admitted one mistake might have been the hiring of a full time director at this point. Aug said the organization will likely need to make some operational changes.

Spangler said he had sat down in May with director Heath Sershen and City Administrator Joe Hoffman to discuss the current budget. Spangler said the next meeting of the full board of directors is scheduled for July 11 to discuss the 2014 budget.

The council was more interested in revising the 2013 budget. There are two separate accounts for the NTC and the account the city has shows a $1,300 deficit. The NTC has nearly $9,000 in its checking account. The council approved a motion requiring $8,000 to be transferred into the city’s 251 account which would put the account in the black for now and cover the next payroll.

Sershen reported on fund raising activities which included retail sales, a direct mail request for donations letter, a door to door campaign to solicit sponsorships and an electronic “ask” letter. He plans to broaden the donation requests to surrounding communities.

There are a total of 19 sponsors at this point, Sershen plans to contact more businesses to ask for their support. A fly contest is scheduled in September and a fund raising supper is to be held in the fall.

There have been 972 visitors already this year which surpasses all of last year’s attendance.

Spangler noted there is a shortfall projected in the revised 2013 budget of $54,526. He believes that can be reduced by about $10,000. He was looking for advice from the council and EDA as to numbers that are reasonable. Spangler said they don’t yet know what the potential is for revenue streams in the future. He added three board members including himself are retired and can offer volunteer help.

Councilman Robert Maust asked if it wasn’t more practical to run the NTC as an independent business. Spangler responded that the NTC would likely be intertwined with Preston if a permanent location is established in the city. The city would own the property. He didn’t expect them to be completely independent entities. Spangler added both entities have an interest in and benefit from the natural assets of the Root River Valley.

Councilman Charles Sparks noted there are other entities like the Historical Society that are given contributions from the city. He said you could be your own fiscal agent. Spangler agreed. Maust asked how soon the NTC will be able to manage its own business. Spangler answered that it could happen when the revenue streams are sufficient for a break even budget. He had no idea when revenues will meet expenditures.

Spangler said they are willing to consider alternatives offered by the council or the EDA. He insisted that they have gone farther faster than other environmental learning centers in Minnesota, adding that he is proud of that.

Spangler quoted Thomas Edison saying, “Vision without execution is a hallucination.” We are working to make NTC a viable entity and not a hallucination.

Maust asked Spangler if he felt the city should fund the shortfall which Maust concluded totaled more than $70,000, including funds the city already provided for the center this year. Spangler said he felt the council would back the activities of the NTC and thought that the city council had been fully informed that there could be a shortfall.

Spangler said they anticipate more donations this year from surrounding communities including Rochester, Minn. He said they are trying to market the NTC regionally and eventually grow nationally.

Spangler said they intend to present options with the 2014 budget to be cooperative with the council and the EDA.

Aug said we need to get it done soon as the city’s original five year commitment is coming near the end. Sparks suggested they scale back to keep the concept alive, adding he can’t see writing negative balance checks. He maintained there is no way they can pick up this kind of shortfall. Maust said the board should present the bare bones to us to keep the center in operation, adding the city council doesn’t intend to manage the center. Spangler offered to provide any information they think will be helpful.

Spangler agreed to meet with the Executive Board, four members including himself, as soon as possible to put together a revised 2013 budget to be presented to the city council at another special council meeting to be held on Tuesday, July 9.

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