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PDA to Nonprofit
TwispWorks burdened by regulations

The TwispWorks public development authority (PDA) Tuesday (Dec.10) asked the Twisp Town Council to support changing the organization to a non-profit entity.

“Our mission is not changing,” executive director Amy Stork told the council. But since TwispWorks was established on 6.4 acres of former Forest Service ranger station property in Twisp, laws governing PDAs have changed. Government regulations of PDAs have become more cumbersome, she said, impeding the organization’s development.

twispworks signTwispWorks now has 25 tenants using 26,000 square feet of building space. Photo courtesy of TwispWorks

TwispWorks board president Casey Bouchard told the council that the organization gets most of its funding from private sources but the PDA regulations assume that PDAs get their funding from public sources. This creates difficulties for the organization that are hampering its growth, he said. “We need to address our business model.”

“We’re full,” Bouchard told the council, and he predicted a doubling of tenants in the next two years as more space becomes available in unrenovated buildings. Now 25 tenants occupy 26,000 square feet of renovated space; another 16,000 square feet is in seasonal use.

Stork said 8 to 10 percent of the town’s business licenses are housed in TwispWorks and that some 80 percent of tenants have business licenses. But she stressed in an interview with Methow Grist that for-profit entities that apply to rent at TwispWorks must be engaged in contributing to the community in such areas as adult education, marketing campaigns or other areas.

TwispWorks operates at “no significant public cost” while providing the town with a park “maintained at zero public cost,” Stork reminded the council members. And she told the council that TwispWorks wants to retain a relationship with the town, which now appoints the board members to the PDA.

The property was purchased by the PDA with a $1 million gift, which was the total cost of the property, said Stork.The Forest Service first established offices on the property in 1929. The campus served as the Twisp Ranger Station headquarters until 1994, when the agency’s operations were moved to Winthrop in a consolidation.

The issues facing TwispWorks are two-fold. A PDA itself cannot raise funds directly from individuals, so the TwispWorks Foundation was established for private fund raising purposes. “We have never gotten any regular public money,” Stork told Methow Grist. The foundation, rather than the PDA, would become the legal owner of the TwispWorks campus if the change is approved, said Stork.

But even non-taxpayer funds are still subject to all the layers of rules that must be followed when spending taxpayer money, said Stork. This means that changes cannot be made to TwispWork buildings without following government-required rules on bidding, wages, materials procurement and other practices, and all this adds layers of cost in bookkeeping and accounting, she said. The PDA now must keep two sets of books, she added, one for it and another for the foundation. The rules add more costly process and review, she said.

twispworks in snow TwispWorks is holding its second Winterfest on December 28 this year, starting at 4:00 p.m. Photo courtesy of TwispWorks

Tenants who wish to make improvements to their space must also follow the rules for spending taxpayer money, she said, and the PDA cannot negotiate terms with tenants to give them credit in rent costs for any improvements they make. “That just limits people’s willingness to invest, obviously,” she said.

“Those are good rules for taxpayer money,” Stork added, but as a community-based organization, TwispWorks needs to be able to treat its privately-raised funds more efficiently. “It costs us more” to work under PDA rules when spending private monies, she said, adding that TwispWorks can move “further and faster” in implementing its master plan as a non-profit such as the Confluence Gallery or the Methow Conservancy.

That master plan calls for new construction of a regional visitor center and a flexible performance/event space in 2014-16, but Stork said those plans have been put on hold.

“What we know now,” said Stork, is that it’s going to take the full 10 years to get the existing buildings renovated. “We’ve learned that the best philosophy for us is instead of `Build it and they will come,’ it’s: `If they come, we will build it,’” she told Methow Grist. TwispWorks is not going to “speculatively renovate buildings and hope somebody will come along.”

After the group’s presentation, council member Bob Lloyd quipped: “I just can’t believe they don’t believe the government way is the most efficient.” He told the TwispWorks officials he understood “that model is restricting you.”

Mayor Soo Ing-Moody said the town would seek a legal opinion on the proposed change before proceeding with further consideration of the request.

IN OTHER BUSINESS, the council heard a report from Public Works Superintendent Howard Moss that the latest tests of the town’s water system showed no trace of contamination and appointed David Ebenger municipal judge for another four-year term. The council also passed a final budget of $2.4 million for fiscal 2014.


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