Every year, seven local residents get to decide how to distribute approximately $100,000 to area non-profits and government agencies. They are members of the LCTV Endowment Board, a group that has made it possible to do everything from re-roof the library building to buy land for the Veen Observatory.
The 2018 applications are in, and the board will meet tonight, Tuesday March 6, to decide how to distribute $112,000 for this year. The meeting will be at 7pm in the conference room on the first floor of City Hall. All are welcome to attend.
Fund Created After Sale of Lowell Cable Television
The LCTV Endowment Fund was created in 2007 after the sale of the city’s cable television business. Prior to that, cable was offered through Lowell Light & Power to customers both within the city and in neighboring townships. The decision to sell the cable television business was controversial with some arguing the city should maintain the service while others said advances in technology would make it both expensive and difficult to continue providing high quality television access.
Ultimately, Lowell Cable Television was sold, and money from the sale was used to create an endowment fund from which local grants would be awarded. “A decision was made that the money should be deposited into the Grand Rapids Foundation,” says Dennis Kent, chair of the LCTV Endowment Board. The foundation manages the fund investments and makes a recommendation as to the appropriate amount of grants to be awarded each year, depending on the fund performance. That amount is typically around $100,000 each year.
It was decided that since the cable television service was offered in both the city and townships, the board should include representatives from each municipality:
- 4 members from the City of Lowell (including one City Council member)
- 2 members from Lowell Township
- 1 member from Vergennes Township
Kent is a City of Lowell representative and has been on the board since its inception. So too have Vergennes Township representative Tim Wittenbach and Lowell Township representatives Sue Simmons and Bill Thompson. The other City of Lowell representatives have varied over the years but currently include Mark Mundt, Barbara Zandstra and Councilmember Jim Salzwedel.
Projects Must Benefit Community
While the LCTV Endowment Board makes recommendations, the Lowell City Council has the final authority to approve grants. When the board makes its recommendations, it reviews applications based on a four-point criteria. It’s looking at whether a project:
- Benefits a broad segment of the Lowell area community
- Enhances the quality of life in the area
- Encourages cooperation among the communities
- Qualifies as a one-time capital improvement project
That last point can be a bit a tricky for board members to navigate. “That’s where it gets a little fuzzy,” Kent says. “Is an educational program a one-time expense?” However, the board has tried to take a flexible approach and has funded one-time expenses within existing programs.
Local governments, non-profit groups and schools are all eligible to apply for grants. “As long as you could demonstrate some tie in to the [community], it’s ok,” Kent says. That means even entities based outside of Lowell, such as the Kent County government, may be eligible for funding if a project provides a benefit directly to residents in the area.
Individuals, political organizations, for-profit enterprises and religious organizations are not eligible for LCTV grants. What’s more, grants are not awarded for salaries or continuing expenses.
Board Members Seek to Balance Awards
Kent stresses the board tries to balance grants among various groups and all the municipalities. The only year that didn’t happen was in 2015 when the Lowell City Council voted to devote all $105,000 available that year to city street projects.
However, even in other years, the reality is that city projects tend to get funded most often. Still, those projects have a broad reach. “Even if we do stuff in the city, it benefits more than just the people in the city,” Kent says.
He points to grants awarded to the fire department, skateboard park, dog park and the schools as money that benefits even those outside city limits. One of the first grants provided by the LCTV Endowment Board was to re-roof the library, a building that sees significant use by those in the townships and beyond.
All told, Kent estimates the LCTV Endowment Board is coming up on $900,000 worth of grant money awarded over the years. Despite the fund’s track record, more could be done to spread the word about grant availability. “Some years we’ve had less grant [requests] than money available,” Kent says. “That’s a bit surprising. It’s free money. At least ask.”
Groups that are asking for 2018 may find out at tonight’s meeting whether they will get some or all of their grant request fulfilled. The meeting is open to the public and will begin at 7pm in the City Hall 1st floor conference room.